Simplified: Six local organizations – led by nonpartisan climate group SoDak350 – have asked Mayor Paul TenHaken why the latest draft of the city's sustainability plan "removes all meaningful, concrete goals," as quoted from a letter sent to the mayor on Tuesday.

Why it matters

  • The latest version of the plan removes 31 of the 71 action items approved by a 30-member Sustainability Steering Committee in December. That committee had been meeting since last March.
  • In March of last year, Mayor Paul TenHaken led a press conference announcing a "Sustainability Climate Action Plan" with a goal to get Sioux Falls to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • A year later, the now-named "Sustainable Sioux Falls Plan" has removed all mentions of "climate change" and "greenhouse gases." The letter sent Tuesday also expressed concerns about an overall "weakening" of the language in the action items.
"We believe that a “plan” which allows the City to hide behind vague platitudes while achieving no meaningful action is ultimately worse than no plan at all," the letter reads.

Tell me more about this letter

The mayor's office let the steering committee know about the changes a couple weeks ago, said Kara Hoving, communications coordinator for SoDak350.

The letter sent to TenHaken Tuesday came from the following organizations (in addition to SoDak350.

  • Dakota Rural Action
  • League of Women Voters of Sioux Falls
  • Citizens' Climate Lobby – Sioux Falls
  • The Mindfill SD
  • Common Ground Indivisible.

In the letter, the groups ask TenHaken to reinstate the original draft of the plan as well as publicly release all input that went into the updated version.

What does TenHaken have to say?

Nothing so far. At least not to Sioux Falls Simplified (or publicly, as far as we can tell).

His office did send a statement from Environmental Services Manager Josh Peterson:

"When committee members received a draft of the framework in December, it was explained that changes could be made based on feedback from various committee members and the City, including the Mayor’s Office."

The statement goes on to say the city is optimistic about the new framework, calling it "realistic, measurable, and actionable."

What are the biggest concerns from the community groups?

Transparency and sustainability.

On the transparency side, the groups say the changes to the plan undermine the process that led to its original drafting.

  • The steering committee had representatives from several different industries, and the group was "driven by public input," the letter stated.
  • The updates from the mayor's office, the letter continues, was drafted behind closed doors.

On the sustainability side, the groups say the updated language will obscure and delay any real action the city might take to address climate change.

“This new ‘framework’ created behind closed doors allows the city to hide behind vague platitudes while delaying meaningful action,"  said Michael Heisler, SoDak 350’s co-founder and chair, who served on the Sustainable Steering Committee behind the original plan.

Give me an example of a goal that changed

For sure. Let's look at the recommendations around energy and buildings.

In the committee's draft, the plan stated four goals:

  • "Utilize at least the 2018 energy code for new municipal construction and significant renovations.
  • Set a green, high-performance building policy for new municipal construction and significant renovations.
  • Increase clean energy that powers city facilities.
  • Develop a plan and implement actions to improve energy efficiency in existing city facilities."

In the updated draft of that exact same section, the plan states three goals:

  • "Explore feasibility of updating energy code for new municipal construction and significant renovations.
  • Explore feasibility of including high-performance, low-energy best practices in municipal buildings.
  • Evaluate ways to improve energy efficiency and increase clean energy at city facilities."

What happens next?

The plan will ultimately go to the City Council for formal approval. It's unclear if more changes will be made between now and then.