BEDFORD, N.Y. - Almost a decade ago, with climate change posing a global challenge, Bedford laid down a bold challenge for itself: to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and do it by 2020.
Doing dramatically better than that, town officials announced last week—a year ahead of the deadline and years after reaching the original goal—that Bedford has become the state’s first municipality to track, report and verify a 70 percent drop in its greenhouse gas emissions.
Emissions data came from a global environmental network, Local Governments for Sustainability. (The organization is more often referred to simply as ICLEI, from its original name, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. The U.S. branch, based in Denver, is ICLEI USA.
At a press conference Wednesday, May 15, at Bedford Town Hall, elected town, county and state officials and environmental leaders celebrated the town’s signal achievement.
“We are beyond thrilled to have reached this significant milestone,” Bedford Councilwoman Lee V.A. Roberts said later. “I knew we could reach our goal, but I never expected to achieve a 70-percent reduction three years early.”
“These numbers were verified by ICLEI and analyzed by the consulting firm of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (Watertown, Mass.),” Roberts said.
A five-term town supervisor from 2004 to 2014, Roberts has been at the center of Bedford’s pioneering environmental efforts from the start. “We have actually been working on this since 2007 when the original Bedford Energy Action Panel was appointed to formulate a plan for the town,” she said.
Roberts said Mary Beth Kass of Katonah, who chaired the all-volunteer advisory group, spent a year combing through records to establish 2004 as a baseline year against which the goal of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases could be measured.
Greenhouse gases—commonly water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and methane—contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. These trapped gases, residue of such things as the burning of fossil fuels, create the greenhouse effect widely blamed for climate change.
In 2010, presenting her advisory panel’s recommendations to the Town Board, Kass called them “a master plan for reducing Bedford’s greenhouse gas emissions.” That environmental blueprint was later made part of the town’s comprehensive plan. Kass went on to help found Bedford 2020, which has implemented the Climate Action Plan.
Kass credited environmental activists Ellen Rouse Conrad and Olivia Farr with working “behind the scenes to get the Bedford 2020 coalition off the ground.”
Today, as co-president of the organization she helped to create, Conrad said in a statement that she is “thrilled by this momentous achievement.”
“It is the result of hard work by the entire community: elected officials, our partnering organizations, the commitment of our citizens, business leaders, students and religious leaders,” she said.
In the years since its founding, Bedford 2020 has been the town’s action arm in the campaign to curb greenhouse gases. Through separate task forces, it has supported Community Choice Aggregation, the bulk purchase of electricity—all of it, in Bedford’s case, from renewable energy sources—and Energize Bedford, a pioneering energy retrofit program that gives qualified homeowners free or reduced-cost energy assessments and helps them to make subsequent energy upgrades.
The nonprofit has also supported solar-panel installations and advocated single-stream recycling, the addition of electric vehicles to the town fleet and the change to LED municipal lighting.
Not content with those accomplishments, Bedford 2020 has its sights set on further achievement. “The good news is we’re not done,” the organization’s program director, Ellen Calves, told the annual Katonah Forum last week. “We are setting new goals, and we are going to work just as hard to reach them.”