Translating Climate Policy to Local Priorities and Opportunities

Rising climate concerns, coupled with the need for sustainable development, has led to the development of federal climate resources to tackle these issues. This summer, we (Demetri Sedita 26’ & Sebastian Montañez 25’) worked with Professor Cunningham to better understand what types of funding and planning resources are available to the City of Poughkeepsie, what capacity Poughkeepsie has to access these resources, and how Vassar students can aid in this process. 

Poughkeepsie is classified as an environmental justice community, defined as an area that has been historically underserved and has experienced disproportionate exposure to climate impacts.

CDC Social Vulnerability Index by census tract, from 0 to 1, with 1 being the most vulnerable. Pink municipality boundaries show the outline of Poughkeepsie, and Vassar College is in green eastward of the city (Online version of map).

We looked at two main pieces of legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The IRA is a federal policy which allocates $360 billion for climate change provisions. The CLCPA sets goals for emission reductions and renewable energy in New York, aiming for 100% renewable electricity by 2040. Both increase access to renewable energy programs in disadvantaged communities like Poughkeepsie, suggesting that the city can leverage the resources available under the IRA and CLCPA to address these issues. 

After discussions with community members, we discovered that local government departments are key players in driving climate initiatives. However, limited city-level capacity hinders Poughkeepsie from fully seizing these opportunities. We identified a potential for Vassar community engagement in local climate planning. Students and faculty can participate by joining regional groups or businesses, contributing to zoning code changes, and conducting research for funding opportunities. Successful engagement necessitates students with skills in writing, research, and an understanding of Poughkeepsie’s functioning and barriers.

The current funding ecosystem and renewable energy resources present unique opportunities for sustainability and climate planning. Engaging with these opportunities can contribute to community development while building valuable skills and experience for students and faculty interested in policy, social justice, and the local economy.