Planning in the Climate Bill

Elana Schor has a helpful roundup of a recent Brookings event on improving federal support for Metropolitan Planning Organizations and, even more important, improving the extent to which the federal relationship with MPOs actually supports good planning. This is an important element of dealing with the climate issue. The built environment evolves slowly over time so it’s difficult to get large short-term emissions reductions through better land use, but by the same token it’s absolutely essential to meeting long-term targets in an economically viable way.

Michael McKeever, executive director of the SACOG, and Peter McLaughlin, a commissioner of Minnesota’s Hennepin County, agreed that the upcoming congressional climate change bill is essential to achieving land use reform.

If the climate bill “does some fairly simple things and requires … high quality [MPO planning] to be done as a pre-condition of getting federal funds,” local development can become a more transparent and rational process, McKeever said.

Legislators, recognizing this, included language to that effect in the original Waxman-Markey bill. But it wound up getting stripped out. Now it’s back in the Kerry-Boxer draft, but the U.S. Senate is generally less friendly than the House to sound urban planning and land use policy so one should be nervous that it will be removed again. However, with these kind of relatively low-profile issues things like preference intensity make a great deal of difference. If Senators get word that their offices are being contacted by people who are interested in something as obscure as MPO planning, that would get noticed. Of course as a DC resident I’m not allowed to be represented in the governing bodies of the United States of America so I can’t contact anyone.