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Youth ask county for climate plan 

In light of federal inaction on climate change, a group of Rochester-area young people is asking the County Legislature make Monroe County carbon neutral by 2050.

The Rochester Youth Climate Leaders, an interscholastic group of middle and high school students, made their request during the Legislature's May 14 meeting. The group wants the Legislature to develop and approve a climate action plan, which would not only set the carbon neutrality goal, but would lay out specific strategies to reach it. The City of Rochester already has a climate action plan.

The plan would cover broad areas such as transportation, energy, heating and cooling, and community planning. But it would also lay out strategies for county government to cut carbon emissions from its own operations, and would ideally include tactics such as investing in building energy efficiency, adding electric vehicles to the county fleet, using renewables to power more county facilities, and launching a county-wide composting program, says Liam Smith, a Brighton High School junior and one of the Youth Climate Leaders who spoke at the meeting.

As a youth organization, the members see not just their own future at stake, but that of the generations that follow, Smith says. They're the ones who will have to live with the worst ramifications of climate change.

"We're asking them to think about the future and what they're going to have to live with," Smith says.

The Youth Climate Leaders group, which formed around the time of the UN's Paris climate summit, also presented legislators with a petition bearing around 1,300 signatures, Smith says.

Democratic Legislators Justin Wilcox and Joe Morelle Jr. responded to the request by announcing that they'll introduce legislation to form a Climate Action Plan Advisory Board. The legislation is still being drafted, but the board would include experts who would work with the Legislature to develop a plan and formal policies that have a lasting impact on both carbon emissions and cost savings, Wilcox says.

Legislature Republicans generally align with County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo and her administration on policy and planning issues. And as its response to the Youth Climate Leaders' request for a carbon-neutral pledge, the administration touted its existing sustainability efforts.

"The county appreciates the advocacy and involvement of these students," including those who spoke at the start of the May 14 meeting, county spokesperson Jesse Sleezer said in an e-mail. "Fortunately, many of the priorities they shared are already being proactively addressed by Monroe County."

Dinolfo launched the county's first-ever Sustainability Team in September, he said. It focuses on facilities and infrastructure, the county's vehicle fleet, energy, resource recovery, and  education and outreach, he said.

"The Sustainability Team will keep working to find new ways for the county to continue to go green while saving green through 2019 and beyond," Sleezer wrote.

He also emphasized that eight county facilities are LEED certified, a designation that means they meet strict criteria related to energy efficiency and environmental impact; that it has a Green Fleet of more than 400 vehicles; and that it does buy power from a local solar project.

Wilcox agrees that the administration has done some positive things that benefit the climate. But the county doesn't have comprehensive and coherent policies guiding those efforts, which is what a climate action plan would provide, he says.

And the Legislature would be able to put some weight behind it, since it could make policies around purchasing and other areas. For example, the Legislature could set a policy requiring the county to purchase electric or hybrid vehicles for its fleet instead of ones that run solely on gasoline, Wilcox says.

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