Columbus, Bloomington, Nashville launch regional ‘Project 46’ alliance

NASHVILLE — Leaders from Columbus, Bloomington and Nashville gathered Friday to announce a new climate initiative that they acknowledged requires both urgency and a deliberate, multi-year process for the communities to work together to set goals and policy.

The leaders, including Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, unveiled a proposed regional climate action plan called the Project 46 Southern Indiana Regional Climate Alliance, a nod to the state highway that provides a vital link between all three communities.

Lienhoop said he expects Columbus City Council to hear a resolution in April adopting the goals of the project. Leaders also hope that each community represented in the working group will dedicate 50 cents per resident per year to fund a three-year initiative, which for Columbus would be roughly $25,000 annually.

Leaders also said they hope that other public, private, civic, business and nonprofit groups will contribute to the effort, which is still in the formative stage.

“We’re going to do this partly because it’s the right thing to do,” Lienhoop said, adding, “to a certain extent, this can be a competitive advantage for our communities. People want this kind of effort to address climate and want this kind of activity to occur in the communities they live in.

“I believe that we all understand in this day and age that people get to choose, to a much greater extent than before, where they live,” he said. “So they want communities to have this kind of forethought.

“… Part of what I would hope we would get out of this is to see a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that we can track in our community so that we can demonstrate a measurable impact from our efforts, number one,” Lienhoop said.

“Number two, I would hope that we could serve as a model for others,” he said.

Underlying the gathering were recent headlines on both the international and local fronts.

Nashville Town Council member Anna Hofstetter opened the meeting by observing, “Brown County schools are closed today, which is very ironic … for flooding.

“We’ve seen the UN report from Tuesday,” she said, “so I don’t need to convince anyone here of the horrors. … We are here for solutions.”

Hofstetter was referencing a report from a United Nations panel of scientists that said humanity still has a chance, close to the last, to prevent the worst of climate change’s future harms, The Associated Press reported.

But doing so requires quickly slashing nearly two-thirds of carbon pollution by 2035, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said. The United Nations chief said it more bluntly, calling for an end to new fossil fuel exploration and for rich countries to quit coal, oil and gas by 2040.

Hofstetter noted that such transitions naturally come at a cost, but added, “There is cost to not taking action. … There is a cost to not making changes. That cost, quite possibly, could be our own extinction.”

Lienhoop said representatives from Columbus, Bloomington and Nashville began meeting on climate in September at the invitation of Blooming Mayor John Hamilton, who said that while the regional effort is in its early stages, he hopes it will be widely accepted, bipartisan, and science-based.

The leaders are seeking at least a three-year commitment to Project 46 from their respective city and town councils. Pressed for plans for immediate steps from a member of the audience who observed that both Hamilton and Lienhoop would be out of office soon, Hamilton said he hoped all three communities would pass resolutions supporting the regional cooperation agreement by early summer.

“It is true Jim and I will be out of office by the end of this calendar year, both by choice, I would note,” Hamilton said. “I would be disappointed if within 90 days we didn’t have the resolutions passed.”

He called local council approvals “an important political momentum-building step. Because if we don’t have support from our financial providers, then that’s a challenge.

“We feel urgency, but we also understand this is a long haul,” Hamilton said. “… Of course what we do in this region is not going to dramatically affect the trajectory of our Earth. But it can dramatically affect the trajectory of our communities. And it’s hard work, complicated, controversial sometimes, and we have to do it right, and we have to do it together, which takes a little time.”

“… It is a red alert warning we got this week,” he said, but he noted hope, too.

He spoke about seeing a billboard advertising Cummins Inc.’s “zero-emissions solutions” recently.

“I haven’t seen many billboards like that in my lifetime,” Hamilton said.

“We are changing,” he said. “There’s a lot going on already, and we have a lot we can share. … We can create shared goals, responsibilities and accountability. We can access, I believe, more state and federal support if we do it together. And maybe most important, we can build trust.

“I believe the public sentiment that we represent wants us to work on this. They want us to work together,” Hamilton said. “… We’re never going to be done with this work. This is with us.”

Nashville Town Manager Sandi Jones read a draft version of the resolution, which would urge communities to “commit to seek to fund the regional climate coalition to share public, private and philanthropic annual support adequate to its mission.”

Among members of the public who spoke, one suggested that a natural way to curb greenhouses gases in the region was to “do nothing,” advocating for a moratorium on logging on public lands such as Yellowwood State Forest in Brown County, and other protected lands in the region.

Leaders of all three communities stressed that Project 46 wasn’t meant to be a vehicle for them to propose policies, but rather a working group in which stakeholders from all communities have a voice and can drive change.

“It’s a trite statement, but slow and steady wins the race,” Lienhoop said. “And that’s what we’re going to do.

“Collaboration among communities is not a natural thing, right? It doesn’t just spring up. You have to work at it to make it work. … There’s an old African proverb out there that I like a lot, and it’s ‘If you want to run fast, go by yourself. If you want to run far, you go together.’”