Two years ago, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined city leaders around the world in a cooperative effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Last December, Fischer added details: the city would aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
But amid last month’s budget cuts, the Metro Office of Sustainability was a casualty: city leaders chose to lay off Louisville’s sustainability director and fold the independent office into the Office of Advanced Planning.
Maria Koetter, the former director, was among the lowest paid executives in her department. Laying her off saves the city about $90,000 per year.
“We’re going to keep moving forward. It’s basically the elimination of one position and then reallocating folks,” Fischer said. “While I’m not happy with that I don’t want people to be overreacting to it as well.”
Fischer says sustainability will continue to be integrated across city departments like what’s being done with Louisville’s resiliency plan, which among other goals seeks ways for the city to adapt to the changing climate.
But environmental advocates question whether the mayor is only paying “lip service” to addressing the city’s environmental threats.
Every month for the last eight months, Jackie Green and other environmental advocates have been delivering letters to the mayor asking for larger reforms, particularly in transportation and renewable energy. On Monday, Green dropped off the latest letter with a member of Kentucky’s branch of the international activist group Extinction Rebellion.
“We need to see reform here in Louisville of our transportation system and the mayor needs to make a major commitment to renewable energy,” Green said.
Fischer has responded to the letters, but has not offered any commitments, Green said.
“So I’m not mourning the loss of the sustainability office because we never had a commitment of sustainability to begin with,” he said.
One lingering question with the transition is what happens to the Division of Community Forestry. That division, responsible for overseeing trees on public rights of way, used to be under the sustainability office.
Develop Louisville Spokeswoman Caitlin Bowling says the city wants to improve coordination of the city’s tree planting efforts, but hasn’t decided whether the three employees in the division should land in Develop Louisville or the parks department.
The two remaining employees with the Office of Sustainability will work with advanced planning, which is now called the Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability.
Director Gretchen Milliken says sustainability is a natural fit for the office, which focuses on long-term strategic planning for the city.
“We don’t want to be thinking about sustainability as an afterthought,” Milliken said. “We want to make sure that we are thinking about it before things happen, that we are planning for it, that we are implementing it on the front end of things.”
Milliken said she’s unsure if all of the same the same programs will continue under the new office.
However, she said the budget did include about $100,00 for the cool roofs rebate program — which incentives property owners to use reflective materials and lighter colored-roofs to reduce the city’s urban heat island.
Additionally, Milliken said the office will continue to work on a climate adaptation plan.
“This is all a week-and-a-half, two weeks old, we don’t have a full set plan going forward at this point, but that’s something that we are working on,” she said.
Other environmental advocates echoed Jackie Green’s concerns, saying the reorganization likely won’t have much of an impact, in part because the sustainability office never had very much funding or staff to begin with.
“Well I think Louisville as a city does not put much money toward sustainability issues. I think the city puts money toward a lot of different issues,” said Alicia Hullinger, Louisville Sustainability Council board chair.
Still, Hullinger said she sees the reorganization as an opportunity to fill a gap and bring community partners together around the issue of sustainability.