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Cape Cod Commission Moves to Prioritize Cutting Greenhouse Gases

Eve Zuckoff
Climate activists rally outside the Cape Cod Commission in Barnstable on Sept. 20, 2019.

The Cape Cod Commission will spend the next six months developing a multi-part proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the region. 

The commission committed to reviewing the issue on Thursday as an alternative to voting on 10 climate action goals environmental activists proposed to the 2018 Regional Policy Plan (RPP).

In an unprecedented move, instead of voting on the activists’ proposals, commissioners agreed to form a subcommittee and work with staff to develop their own, separate climate mitigation amendments to the Regional Policy Plan that balance the region’s environmental and economic needs.


The activists from the groups 350 Cape Cod and Sierra Club initially petitioned the commission in 2019, arguing that the RPP doesn’t do enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their proposed amendments would promote renewable energy, electric cars, and net zero building, among other efforts to fight climate change.  


Early in the meeting, Tom Wilson, the commissioner from Chatham, expressed concerns about adding goals from a citizens petition into the RPP.  


“The RPP is a general plan,” he said. “Changing the RPP, in my opinion, should include extensive community engagement and outreach, a process that commission staff have successfully used in addressing other regional issues.”


Commission staff, housing activists, and developers also criticized the proposed amendments. They maintained that the RPP was developed through an extensive public process because it is a hugely important planning, regulation, and policy document. The finished result, they said, delicately balanced regional needs like housing growth, transportation efficiency, and economic development. Several critics said they fear that elevating greenhouse gas reduction goals could undermine other efforts. 


But commissioners including Dick Elkin of Wellfleet said it’s time to respond to feedback that the commission hasn’t done enough to combat climate change, given the existential threat it poses to Cape Cod.


“I’m not that pleased with the last process because I don’t think it incorporated all of the greenhouse gas reduction goals people wanted to see,” Elkin said. “And in fact, in the RPP there’s almost nothing about greenhouse gas reduction.”


Ron Bergstrom, Barnstable County Commission representative, agreed, saying he wouldn’t deny the activists’ amendments without seeing reasonable alternatives.


“I want to be able to vote for something,” Bergstrom said. “I want to have a recommendation from the commissioners that the petitioners can agree with, that we can say the Cape Cod Commission has moved forward on climate change.”


Petitioner and activist Chris Powicki described the commission’s decision to develop its own goals as a huge success.


“This is a momentous decision for climate advocates because the Cape Cod Commission has essentially agreed to, been encouraged to, been prodded to incorporate climate change mitigation into what they do on a daily basis,” he said. 


Under the plan adopted Thursday, by January 23, 2021, the commission will regroup to discuss the staff and subcommittee’s emissions reduction goal, new amendments to the 2018 Regional Policy Plan, and more information on a separate Climate Action Plan.  


Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.