This week has been quite the emotional roller coaster. The passing of our visionary, kind, and tenacious Mayor, and the most significant climate legislation in US history becoming law with the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act. Lows and highs. Both more impactful than I can get my head around.
First, John Engen. In the past few days, so much has been written, spoken, and shared about John and his legacy, how much he gave and how much he will be missed, his humor and his heart. His legacy is evident in many different arenas, from building a vibrant downtown, to owning our water system, to bringing zero-fare to Mountain Line, to believing safe, affordable housing is deserved by all.
John’s legacy also includes over a decade of helping Missoula take climate seriously and make bold commitments to act, commitments that we work to accelerate today. It was not as common or popular back in 2011 to dedicate city staff to research our greenhouse gas emissions and create plans to address them. John was the first mayor in Montana to join the national Mayor’s Climate Network and convene a task force to determine what the city can and should do, even asking his task force to “go bold” and set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality for municipal operations by 2025.
In the years after crafting that first plan, I spent many hours in John’s mayoral office, discussing what was missing in Missoula in the climate sphere, and he helped me imagine what would become our organization, Climate Smart Missoula. He offered to convene the right community partners and ask for their commitments. It’s not that John made climate actions happen himself, but rather he made sure those who could were connected, had agency, set ambitious goals, and kept at it.
I’ll admit that recently, as the climate crisis has intensified, I’ve wanted our mayor to focus more attention on it. (And the City. And everyone.) The pressures on our city are many, and no doubt it’s difficult to meet this moment. So, we’ll keep making noise about it and advocating for solutions that address climate and the other challenges we face at the same time. I am known as someone who tries to (strategically) push for more, act on my values, and build partnerships, and as I reflect, I know I learned this from Missoula’s longest-serving Mayor.
And there is a connection to this week’s signing into law the biggest climate legislation ever passed by Congress. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the end of story, but it took persistence and a “never give up” attitude from countless activists, leaders and policy experts to get this first step passed, setting us on a new course aimed at addressing our climate emergency.
John Engen’s earlier efforts, together with our collective commitments and partners, including the City and the County, have positioned Missoula to avail ourselves of funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). John helped lay the groundwork, strengthened relationships, and showed us how to be nimble and keep our eye on the prize – a vibrant and resilient community that works for everyone. We’re increasingly well-prepared to accelerate our work with support from this new legislation, and with more people engaged.
“Historic, imperfect, transformational” -- these seem to be the most common words I hear from fellow climate wonks about the climate and energy provisions in this massive new IRA bill. “Awesome, you must be stoked” – is what I hear from everyone who knows what I do for a living. It’s all those things and more. As these things go, the reality of all the bill contains is nuanced. But in a nutshell, it enables the first sustained period of declining fossil energy consumption in US history, even with its significant flaws.
We’ll have lots more to share about what this legislation means for Missoula residents, businesses, nonprofits and local government, in the coming months and even years.
Climate Smart Missoula is already working in partnership with the City, Missoula County and others to understand and implement efforts to reduce fossil fuels and energy use in buildings, efforts which will no doubt accelerate thanks to the IRA.
Affordable housing is not just about monthly rent or mortgage payments, but also about stable energy bills, healthy indoor air, and the ability to be comfortable in the winter and cool in the summer – and fully electrified buildings with heat pumps are the best way to get at all these.
Funding from this legislation will absolutely help us Electrify Missoula, and we're excited. If you are thinking of electrifying your home or purchasing electric appliances but it’s not essential this year, hold on until 2023. If you’re thinking of going solar this year, go for it. This new IRA legislation will make both possible for more Montanans.
Just as John set the table for momentum to grow climate solutions locally, this new era of federal action is setting the table for so much more climate action the world over. We have this table thanks to climate visionaries, leaders, and activists. We have a seat at that table, thanks in no small part to John Engen’s vision.
- Amy Cilimburg