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America’s Mayors See Regulatory Powers As Their Top Climate Action Tools, but Are Reluctant To Limit Resident Choices, According to Survey of U.S. Mayors

Nine-in-Ten Mayors Agree that Climate Change is Human-Induced

Mayors from Both Parties Strongly Support Purchasing New Technologies Like Electric Vehicles

Findings Among Those from the Boston University Initiative on Cities’ Menino Survey of Mayors

BOSTON | January 17, 2023 – The Inflation Reduction Act marks a landmark investment in climate, featuring hundreds of billions of dollars in commitments toward transforming American energy use and emissions reductions. Local leaders are key allies in putting these dollars to work, as frontline communities are centered in its implementation. America’s mayors feel a sense of urgency to act, as their communities face real and immediate climate impacts, including drought, extreme heat, flooding, and air pollution. Just 3% of mayors say they are not concerned about any local effects of climate change.

These are some of the findings from the latest Menino Survey of Mayors, the only nationally representative survey of America’s mayors conducted annually by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities. A full report on mayors’ attitudes regarding their cities’ climate issues and priorities can be found here.

Nine-in-ten mayors surveyed this past summer agree that climate change is real and caused by human activities, not by natural changes in the environment. While there are some partisan differences among mayors, the most notable gap is actually between Republican mayors and Republican voters: 71% of Republican mayors surveyed agree that climate change is human-induced, relative to just 32% of Republican voters.

Mayors across the country believe in the need to take significant local climate action, even if it is costly: 73% agree that cities should be willing to expend resources and incur costs to address climate change, and 8-in-10 of those who agree say they are motivated by a “desire to do our part” irrespective of where climate impacts happen. However, there are notable partisan differences with 87% of Democratic mayors agreeing with the need to make significant financial investments in climate action compared to 43% of Republicans. While sizable, this partisan gap has closed since 2019 due to a growing share of Republicans agreeing that the investment is necessary.

“Our city continues to prepare for the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to increasing frequency and strength of hurricanes,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “While this crisis is a global one—calling for collaboration across all levels of government, the private sector, and citizens—mayors have been at the forefront of climate innovation, creating policies and tools that mitigate impacts, build resiliency, and address environmental justice concerns.”

Mayors cite their city’s influence over building codes (55%) and zoning (38%) as their top two most powerful climate tools. In contrast, very few mayors (8%) cite their authority to ban or limit behaviors as a top tool, suggesting they are not equally bullish about all regulatory powers. Mayors are reluctant to impose restrictions on gas stoves, gas lawn tools, and gas and oil heat, or to try to dissuade residents from driving.

Rather, mayors seem more comfortable with creating choices for consumers and spending government resources on climate-friendly versions of things they can and do buy. Mayors from both parties strongly support purchasing or encouraging new technologies like electric vehicles. In fact, three-quarters support replacing their city’s municipal vehicles early – before their natural lifecycle ends” – with more fuel-efficient versions. This suggests a major opportunity for federal agencies and partners to help cities improve fleet management practices and align electric vehicle charging infrastructure investments with future municipal fleet needs. In this vein of actions involving the city’s own resources, a majority of mayors were also supportive of using local government funding for energy efficiency upgrades in private homes.

“We’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm from a lot of mayors about local climate actions,” said David Glick, Menino Survey Co-Author and Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston University. “At the same time, we’re also seeing the realities that many mayors are constrained in various ways as only a subset of these enthusiastic mayors are embracing the full set of potentially controversial tools.”

Energy for cities and their residents is a key domain in which climate, economic, and social concerns intersect. Mayors are simultaneously concerned about both costs of current energy supplies and energy supplies’ impact on the environment: 57% cite rising costs as one of their top two energy concerns and 47% cite environmental impacts. Democrats and Republicans agree about cost concerns, but Democrats are much more concerned with environmental impacts, while Republicans worry more about keeping up with future demand.

“Mayors across the country are concerned about the threat of drought, extreme heat, and flooding on their cities. These climate related catastrophes have a disproportionate impact on low-income and marginalized communities,” said Gregory Johnson, Managing Director of the Equity & Economic Opportunity initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The 2022 Menino Survey of Mayors on the climate crisis should act as a stepping stone to building a plan to address the crisis with the needs of marginalized communities in mind.”

Local decisions about climate change can require direct engagement with residents. However, mayors are almost perfectly divided about whether public meetings are informative or misleading. About half see public meetings as a “valuable source for learning about the views of the community,” while the other half say they mainly “provide information from a non-representative group and can be a misleading source of public views.” Mayors are also concerned about a wide range of types of disinformation that they hear from constituents. The most common response was related to conspiracy theories in general, followed by disinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines, policing (both under- and overfunding), and distrust of government in general.

The Menino Survey of Mayors, named after the late Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino and supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, is an annual project to understand the most pressing needs and policy priorities of America’s mayors from large and mid-size (over 75,000 residents) cities. In total, 118 mayors from 38 states were interviewed throughout the summer of 2022, providing a representative sample of mayors and cities nationally.

Additional findings from the 2022 Menino Survey – related to poverty and health and safety – will be released as a separate report in March.


About the Initiative on Cities

The Boston University Initiative on Cities leads research in, on, and with cities in pursuit of sustainable, just, and inclusive urban transformation. We marshal the talents and resources of wide-ranging disciplines across Boston University spanning the social, natural, computational, and health sciences. The Menino Survey is named for the late Mayor Tom Menino, who co-founded the Initiative on Cities in 2014 following 20 years as mayor of Boston. Additional information may be found at www.bu.edu/ioc and at www.surveyofmayors.com.

About The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation that enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal and sustainable. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to health care and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

Media Contacts:

Davina Dukuly
The Rockefeller Foundation
DDukuly@rockfound.org
+1 212-852-0000

Stacy Fox
Boston University
SFox@bu.edu
+1 617-358-8086

  • Report

    2022 Menino Survey of Mayors: Mayors and the Climate Crisis

    The Inflation Reduction Act features hundreds of billions of dollars in commitments to reshaping American energy use and reducing emissions. These commitments include tax credits and rebates for solar panels, electric vehicles, and heat pumps. These federal investments represent new opportunities for local governments and local elected officials who have already been addressing climate change […]
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