COUNCILMAN Bill Green suggests that Mayor Nutter should cut the Office of Sustainability and the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator as a "non-core service" in the city budget. While Green's desire to keep fire stations and libraries open is commendable, the suggestion that these positions are trendy and expendable is extremely shortsighted.
The Office of Sustainability, which has only one new employee on payroll, is pursuing strategies that will improve our environment and our economy. The city currently spends $60 million a year on electricity, gas, oil and water. When PECO's rate caps expire in 2010, that tab will jump by at least $15 million.
Tens of thousands of Philadelphians are already receiving utility shutoff notices and scrambling to come up with enough cash to prevent spending the holidays without lights or heat. The Office of Sustainability is our best hope to put together an energy conservation and management plan sufficient to save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and increase energy efficiency and affordability for all of us.
Beyond energy, city efforts to improve recycling could result in as much as $17 million in avoided landfill costs and revenue from the sale of valuable recyclables. Through increasing access to local foods, removing barriers to public transit and reducing air pollution, the office will ensure that the city continues to thrive economically even as the dual threats of rising energy costs and global warming loom. By turning these threats into opportunities, Philadelphia can attract new businesses and create hundreds of green-collar jobs in a clean energy economy.
The pedestrian/bicycle position is important to making streets and sidewalks safe for pedestrians and bicyclists and eliminating the position would do little to minimize the pain of the proposed cuts. But it would result in the city's losing its best chance of bringing in new revenue from federal and state energy efficiency and "active" transportation programs.
With the current economic turmoil, we will all have to tighten our belts. But that doesn't mean we should be pennywise and pound-foolish. Making the investment in smart sustainability policy now will mean millions of dollars in savings for years to come. Now that's the kind of GREEN we would ask the councilman to support.