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Orange County hosts Climate Action Plan meeting, community discusses climate change goals

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Transportation is one of the top two groups that release the most emissions in Orange County.

Orange County hosted a Climate Action Plan meeting in Chapel Hill on Wednesday to first review the draft of the plan and receive public input from community members.

The County's current CAP aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using science-based strategies. Attendees of the meeting were encouraged to comment on what they would like to see included or changed in the plan.

Kristin Cushman, the project manager for the CAP and the founder and CEO of Blue Strike Environmental, said she helped write the plan with County employees.

"If we don't invest money up front, then the greenhouse gas emissions escalate over time," she said.

She said the Orange County CAP will follow the recommendations of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations organization that assesses the science behind climate change.

Orange County's CAP will attempt to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050 to prevent elevating global temperatures, Cushman explained

"We need to acknowledge that there is some urgency here, and we need to acknowledge that there is a cost of inaction," she said.

She said the top two groups that release the most emissions in Orange County are transportation and commercial energy, which means emissions produced by businesses. Transportation alone made up 43 percent of Orange County's greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, according to the current CAP draft. Accordingly, those two categories are the main focus of Orange County's CAP goals. 

Melissa McCullough, a candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council, said she worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for almost 32 years. Her last position at the EPA before she retired was assistant director of the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program.

McCullough said government action is necessary to help reduce the impact of climate change.

She said emissions are so high in Orange County because of vehicle miles traveled that are impacted by urban sprawl, making Chapel Hill hard to travel without a car. McCullough said getting people to stop using natural gas and use renewable energy instead is necessary to combat climate change.

"For Chapel Hill, the big thing we need to do is make it more walkable and bikable," she said.

Amy Eckberg, the sustainability programs manager for Orange County, said the CAP was drafted using a public engagement process, including online focus group sessions with UNC students. She said over 500 people responded to an online survey to provide input for Orange County's drafted CAP.

She hopes the CAP will help to educate people about climate change.

"It truly is a community effort, it's not just something Orange County can do on its own," Eckberg said.

The CAP will receive funding mostly from the federal government and the state government, Eckberg said. She also said County staff will present the final plan to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners this fall for final adoption.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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