An Environmental Agenda for Cleveland's New Mayor

Karen Schaefer- Air Pollution. Water pollution. Decaying inner cities. Nearly every older American city is faced with a host of environmental problems. Some - like brownfields - are a holdover from an industrial economy, while others - such as urban sprawl - are still being created. Cleveland is no exception. And the city's environmental leaders want the next mayor to put some of the most pressing environmental issues at the top of his or her agenda.

Kevin Snape- I think it's that we've always kind of viewed pollution as the smell of money. What I'd like to see in this election is that we really start looking at the interlinkages between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.

KS- Heading the list for most environmentalists is air pollution. Kevin Snape is director of the Clean Air Conservancy. Cleveland does its own enforcement of air pollution standards through an oversight board and a newly-created citizen's advisory committee. But Snape wants the city to go after polluters by beefing up its air pollution permitting.

KSn- ...How do we effectively monitor the environment so that it's a benefit for industry? You go to a big business' main office and you ask them, what's one of your biggest frustrations? By the time they get to number two on the list, they've mentioned air permitting.

KS- But industry is no longer the biggest source of air pollution, says Stu Greenberg, head of Environmental Health Watch. His group is working on a variety of public health issues relating to the environment, among them childhood lead poisoning and an almost epidemic rise in the number of people with asthma.

Stu Greenberg- We're learning... that mobile sources - autos, trucks and buses - are a major contributor to air pollution. Particularly, we've learned in the last couple of years about the role of diesel exhaust as a very worrisome pollutant in terms of a number of chronic illnesses.

KS- Greenberg applauds the city's efforts to reduce mobile pollution sources by adding natural gas buses to its city fleet and instituting ozone action days designed to reduce ground-level ozone, a powerful asthma trigger. But he and other environmentalists would like to see a new administration institute additional changes, like tax breaks for businesses that switch vehicle fleets from diesel to natural gas or cleaner diesel fuels. David Beach, director of EcoCity Cleveland, believes environmental issues relating to transportation are just one example of a need for a more regional approach to finding solutions.

David Beach- In many of our most serious environmental problems relating to air quality, water quality, transportation are really the result of our poorly-planned patterns of sprawling land use and development around the region. To change those types of things is going to require regional or state policies for smarter growth. And the next mayor of Cleveland, to do that, is going to have to collaborate with partners from the first suburbs in Northeast Ohio to the city of Akron and other cities throughout Ohio on state policy changes or regional policy changes.

KS- Later this year, the state will begin offering communities a share of a new $400 million fund to preserve open space and clean up brownfields in decaying inner cities. Beach believes this two-fold approach to combating urban sprawl has promise. But like many, he's concerned that the fund isn't large enough to jump-start new development.

DB- If the city's going to compete for the new jobs and new industries of the future, it has to do a superior job of cleaning up the old brownfield sites, assembling land for redevelopment and tapping the state and federal dollars that it's going to take to fund those sorts of programs. The city's made some significant steps in doing that, but there's still a lot of brownfields that still need to be reclaimed.

KS- An additional barrier to clean-up is identifying brownfield pollutants. Chris Trepal of Earth Day Coalition says that's become more difficult, because the Ohio EPA is no longer publishing its master list of brownfield sites. Trepal says her organization is creating a model to help neighborhoods to identify sites and assess clean-up needs. But she'd like the next mayor to take a leadership role in improving Cleveland's environmental health and making the city more livable.

Chris Trepal- If these two things are at the top of his agenda, we feel that jobs, economic development, quality health care will all fall into place... If we don't do it, we're going to be left behind, because other cities and other countries are doing just that.

KS- Chris Trepal isn't alone in seeing a healthy environment as an economic advantage.

DB- Let's think about what it's going to take to position Cleveland for the 21st century. We're on the Great Lakes. Water is our competitive advantage in many ways. So we need to create exceptional environmental quality, because that's going to be the basis for a great city in the future.

KSn- That's what we need the next mayor to talk about. How can Cleveland be environmentally smart and make an economic killing at the same time?

KS- As the mayoral campaign develops this fall, environmental groups will be watching closely to see how candidates respond to questions about environmental issues. And this November they'll be urging Cleveland residents to vote for the candidate who is most willing to put clean air, clean water, and a livable city at the top of the mayoral agenda. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.

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