Published October 3, 2008 09:03 AM

Houston taking on global warming

Houston, of all places, suddenly has a sweeping plan to fight global warming.

America's energy capital is seeking to slash emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change under the plan, which city officials released with little fanfare days before Hurricane Ike.

The goal is to reduce this smoggy, sprawling city's impact on the climate by buying renewable power and hybrid cars, replacing lightbulbs and rehabbing buildings to make them more energy-efficient, among other strategies.

The effort comes amid increasing frustration with the federal response to global warming. Mayors from Meridian, Miss., to Seattle have adopted their own initiatives to deal with so-called greenhouse gases, heeding calls from experts who believe that if steps aren't taken soon to reduce these pollutants, or at least slow their growth, the planet's climate could change radically.

Mayor Bill White's plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 11 percent below 2005 levels by 2010. City officials described the target as conservative, because it's based on existing programs, and they expect to introduce more, including additional solar panels on rooftops and expanded mass transit.

With the strategies already in play, the plan doesn't need the approval of City Council. What's new is the analysis of the city's emissions.

"While we have undertaken all of these initiatives, we've taken them for many different reasons," such as energy efficiency and cost savings, said Elena Marks, the mayor's director of environmental and health policy. "We hadn't captured what the emissions reductions would be."

The plan places Houston high on any list of green strivers, experts said. Austin's energy goals may be more ambitious, and Arlington has a broader inventory of emissions, but neither has a detailed plan for reducing pollutants that hover in the atmosphere.

Local environmentalists endorsed Houston's efforts and described the plan as a bold first step that could be a model for other cities.

"If you were the mayor of Houston, would you raise the flag for global warming?" said Nan Hildreth of the Houston Climate Protection Alliance, an advocacy group. "But he has."

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