Boyd seeks end to Albemarle’s ‘Cool Counties’ initiative and questions joint planning project
A member of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors has called for the county to rescind its membership in a U.N.-backed global organization that advises cities and counties on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are being infiltrated in local government by an agenda that is set by this international organization,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd. “I think it is time that we as a government took back that control.”
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Boyd made a motion Wednesday for the county to cut ties with a group formerly known as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI. Over 1,220 local governments have joined the group, including the city of Charlottesville, which in 2003 changed its name to ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability.
Albemarle joined the organization shortly after adopting the Cool Counties initiative in December 2007. That action set a non-binding goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. ICLEI provides its members with software that compiles data so progress towards the goals can be tracked.
Boyd’s motion called for the county to end its participation in the initiative, which has also been adopted by Arlington and Fairfax counties.
“Cool Counties is the real problem here,” Boyd said. “It’s now becoming evident that this initiative was just an extension of the United Nations initiative Agenda 21 which is administered by [ICLEI].”
“In my mind, that’s a good thing,” Rooker said. “This whole thing about international control and one government is in my mind completely ridiculous.”
Rooker pointed out that he has never received a phone call or a letter from anyone from ICLEI lobbying for a particular vote.
Boyd responded by saying ICLEI representatives have been present at conferences attended by staff.
“My concern now is that this is the camel’s nose under the tent,” Boyd said. “It’s even beyond that. I think it’s now a cancer that is infiltrating our local government here.”
At a budget work session in March, Boyd sought to eliminate the $1,200 line item representing the annual cost of the ICLEI membership. As the only supervisor who was strongly opposed at the time, the funding was ultimately retained in the FY 2012 budget.
Gil Meneses, communications director for ICLEI’s United States branch, said his group does not lobby any of its members.
“We support their local initiatives to become more energy efficient, which saves local governments energy costs and money,” Meneses said in an email.
Meneses added that ICLEI has nothing to do with the Cool Counties initiatives, though many of its members have signed on.
Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said the county’s efforts to promote sustainable development date back before the signing of Agenda 21.
“Albemarle County has been planning for fiscally and environmentally responsible ways to manage its growth [in] its comprehensive plans as far back as the 1970s,” Butler said. He pointed to the decision to set aside designated growth areas as well as the downzoning of rural land to discourage development.
Boyd withdrew his motion after Rooker asked for it to be placed on a future agenda so staff could answer questions about whether they’ve been influenced by ICLEI. County Executive Thomas Foley said a work session would be scheduled for June.
Boyd also asked that the board spend time at the work session to discuss the role being played by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission in the ongoing review of the county’s update of its comprehensive plan. The TJPDC received a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of its “Sustainable Communities” initiative.
“If staff wants to bring things to us that they think are wrong or legal changes that need to be made, that’s fine,” Boyd said. “But any other changes we make to our comprehensive plan should come from this board, and not from the TJPDC.”
At recent meetings, the board has received regular criticism of the ICLEI membership from Jefferson Area Tea Party member Charles Battig. Battig also has called on the public to question the role of TJPDC in the county’s planning efforts.
“This unelected organization has stated its intention to apply its own version of sustainability benchmarks against all activities of the public, and have its vision of citizen behavioral change and social justice objectives codified in the County Comprehensive Plan,” Battig wrote in a statement provided to Charlottesville Tomorrow.
“We have nothing to do with ICLEI or Cool Counties,” said Steven Williams, the executive director of the TJPDC. “I don’t even know where the idea came from that we were related to them.”
Williams said Albemarle taxpayers would benefit from the county’s participation in the grant.
“This grant is bringing resources to Albemarle County for their comprehensive plan update that would not have been available otherwise, at no cost to the county,” Williams said. “They’re getting $122,000 in staff work without spending a dime.”
Williams added that the Board of Supervisors has the ultimate authority to approve the comprehensive plan.
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