City urges Missoula climate team to stay active

A man passes in front of the GLR Building in downtown Missoula on Tuesday. The new building was constructed with green technologies, an area the city’s Energy and Climate Team may focus on as it looks to reinvent itself. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday approved changes in the bylaws governing the Energy and Climate Team to make the group more effective in promoting green technologies while combating climate change at the local level.

The group, which traces its formation back to 2004 when it was created by the City Council, has achieved a number of successes over the last 12 years. Among them, it has hired an energy and climate coordinator at the city level, added recycling bins downtown, and completed a municipal greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

Now, it’s looking to reinvent itself and stay relevant.

“The team has been fairly instrumental in a lot of those efforts since we were formally formed in 2004,” said Ben Schmidt, the team’s chair. “But the last couple years, I’ve felt like we’ve spent more time spinning our wheels than actually accomplishing things.”

Looking to maintain purpose and find new meaning, the group made subtle changes to its bylaws, which were approved Wednesday by the City Council’s Parks and Conservation Committee.

It’s also seeking new areas of focus and greater communication with city leaders, who have the authority to adopt the team’s policy recommendations and implement changes.

Committee members who once questioned the group’s purpose now find value in its work, and they requested that it stay active. With the political landscape shifting in Washington, D.C., focus on climate change is needed more now than ever, they said.

“When this first started out, I wasn’t a great supporter of yours, but now I am,” said Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins. “Over the next four years, it’s going to be hard to talk about climate change and what it’s doing to us. Politically, it’s going to be a hard thing. I’d encourage you to get your message out to the public as much as you can, and stick to what you’re doing.”

Schmidt said many of the group’s long-standing members will move on, leaving open a number of vacancies that will need to be filled. Who takes those seats and the skill sets they bring to the table could determine where the group places its focus moving forward.

As it stands, Schmidt said, the team has an interest in green building technologies, something that could result in policy recommendations as the city continues to grow.

“An advisory role is potentially where it still has function,” Schmidt said of the team. “There’s a potential role there for us. We’ve got to have more communication with the Parks and Conservation Committee to be more effective.”

Ward 5 council member Julie Armstrong encouraged the Energy and Climate Team to stay active and play a role in the city’s new Office of Housing and Economic Development.

“There’s certainly opportunity for you guys to stay engaged and not go away,” she said, adding that the team should also focus on upstart businesses with a hand in green technologies. “You’re able to determine what works in Missoula, whose doing that work, and make it easy for citizens to participate in all the technologies going on here.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com