City Councilman: Mayor Henry’s actions towards environment are ‘overkill’

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry
Mayor Tom Henry

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Four Fort Wayne councilman are questioning whether Mayor Tom Henry’s recent push for environmental responsibility will stop new jobs from coming to Fort Wayne.

Councilmen Tom Didier, R-3rd, Russell Jehl, R-2nd, Paul Ensley, R-1st, and John Crawford, R-at-large, wrote a letter to the mayor on June 9 expressing these concerns. They asked whether his public disapproval of President Donald Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, followed by him joining the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda (MNCAA) would “cease to welcome new jobs which have carbon footprints?”

The councilmen say most businesses the city tries to recruit, such as manufacturers, have carbon footprints. The wrong type of effort towards environmental responsibility would threaten most local jobs.

In the letter, they say they “appreciate the desire to be environmentally responsible,” but wonder how committed Henry plans to be to the MNCAA objectives. They asked if he plans on staying true to the 2025 deadline put in place at the Paris Summit to reduce emissions by 25%, if he planned to brief and garner support from other leaders in the community, and if the city would seek to end the area’s use of coal power.

The councilmen state that common sense says the city “cannot support measures which hurt our economy or that are cost prohibitive to taxpayers.”

Didier, who believes climate change is largely an exaggeration, says the Mayor’s recent actions are too much. He believes Henry releasing a public statement about Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement was a federal issue outside of his bounds.

“Overall, I think it’s overkill,” he said. “Why are we making a mountain out of a molehill? It probably shouldn’t have been written, but he did. So we had to counteract it because we wanted to make sure that people understood we’re going to be proactive for jobs in the community. That’s what it’s really all about.”

The Mayor responded with a letter of his own on June 19. He told the councilmen that environmental responsibility does not discourage new jobs, but encourages them. He named the $188 million dollar deep-rock tunnel as an example of a project that provides both environmental and economic benefits, citing that it will reduce sewer overflows by 90 percent, create jobs, and attract jobs.

Henry named multiple other environmental initiatives that have grown the city economically. He stated how the the city reducing garbage collection fees through increased recycling, reducing emissions by 50 percent and saving more than 75,000 gallons of gas per year through fleet maintenance, and saving $420,000 in electricity costs by using biogas to power and heat the Water Pollution Control Plant were all examples of the economic benefits of environmental responsibility.

Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, agrees with the mayor and believes his colleagues are taking the Mayor’s intentions out of of context with the letter they wrote.

“I guess I’m puzzled,” Paddock said. “Maybe my philosophy is different. I think a strong environmental policy will not only attract people to live here, but businesses to come here. So I think that’s a very important statement to make and I think that’s what the mayor is saying. The mayor is saying let’s show the lead. If the federal government and President Trump decide they’re not going to show the lead, if the state of Indiana is going to perhaps take a step back, let’s show that the city of Fort Wayne is upfront, that we are proactive, hat we are taking steps on a voluntary basis. These are just targets. These are not mandates. That is responsible leadership and I commend the mayor for doing that.”

Both sides of this argument believe in striking a balance between environmental responsibility and economic growth. They’ve agreed that stronger communication and collaboration is needed moving forward.