City to fund environmental programs, sustainability coordinator

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If, years from now, the roof of the City-County Building is a garden where staffers work on solar laptops while breathing markedly fresher air, someone browsing the Internet for the history of Pittsburgh eco-consciousness might find that in summer 2008, city government finally put some green behind going green.

Today Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plans to announce a $100,000 infusion of cash into a proposed Green Initiatives Trust Fund and a foundation-backed effort to hire a sustainability coordinator. It's a lead-in to the release next week of a report by the Green Government Task Force.

The money and the coordinator are expected to be the keys to implementing the task force's recommendations, which include seeking eco-friendly certification for government properties -- including the City-County Building -- rewriting the city code to favor things like solar power, teaching employees to turn off lights and more.

"Obviously, it continues our agenda to advance green investment in Pittsburgh, and we felt it was really important to demonstrate that the city government is serious about being green," Mr. Ravenstahl said. A staff member and a trust fund dedicated to the concept should help link efforts going on in various departments, and bring about business buy-in and foundation funding, he said.

The funding comes from savings the city accrued from buying energy in an online auction with Allegheny County and some agencies. The trust fund, if City Council approves it, would cover part of the $45,000 salary of the coordinator, plus provide matching funds the city can use to land state, federal and private grants for more environmental efforts.

The Surdna Foundation is expected to pay part of the coordinator's salary.

The coordinator, once hired, won't have to look far for a to-do list. The 2-year-old task force, which the mayor co-chaired with Councilman William Peduto and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, is expected to make its recommendations to council next week.

"We want someone here with the background and the environmental education," said Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski, who along with energy and utilities manager Jim Sloss has been serving as the administration's uncredentialed green tandem. Though the pay is modest, she said, there are young environmental professionals "chomping at the bit to do a job like this."

Greening the City-County Building alone could be a huge job, said Mr. Sloss. "Right now, we are hemorrhaging energy," he said. "You can go in some offices with air conditioning on and a personal heater on under the desk."

The coordinator also can do the math needed to justify steps like the purchase of hybrid vehicles, Mr. Sloss said.

The coordinator will work with a "green council," including representatives from most city departments and City Council, that will set priorities and decide how to spend the trust fund. The city will replenish the fund each year.

Mr. Sloss said the city needs a fund for efforts like an ongoing push, backed by federal money and expertise, to make Pittsburgh solar friendly. The city has missed out on opportunities to get grants because it hasn't been able to show that it can put its own money on the table.

And how much would that rooftop garden cost? That's not known, but the city is working with a Chatham University class to figure out how it could work.

Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542.


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