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Issues of the Environment: “Resilient Washtenaw” climate action plan ready for launch

Issues of the Environment: “Resilient Washtenaw” climate action plan ready for launch

Washtenaw County launched the “Resilient Washtenaw” climate plan. The goal of the plan is to achieve carbon neutrality in county operations by 2030, and communitywide by 2035. Andrew DeLeeuw is the director of strategic planning for Washtenaw County. He joined WEMUs David Fair in covering what will happen in 2022 as well as what it will be like to achieve these ambitious targets.


  • January 2022 marks an end to a year-long planning process for Washtenaw Countys Climate Action Plan (also known as “Resilient Washtenaw”), which began in January 2022. Ann Arbor-based environmental consulting companyResource Recycling SystemsThe county is seeking input from residents and plans to hold 55 community meetings in the coming year. Each county will host listening sessions. You can also submit your input through an Online map. You can view a timeline of events Here.
  • The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously endorsed a resolution last autumn to allocate funds for climate action planning efforts. Resource Recycling Systems has been contracted to assist in the development of a comprehensive and innovative climate action plan for Washtenaw County. (Source:
  • Washtenaw County recognizes that the county’s organizational greenhouse gas emissions are.2% of total global emissions. Residents are essential in the development of a stepwise plan to reduce them. After a plan has been developed, it will need to be approved by the Board of Commissioners Consideration. Modifications to County Policy, programming, planning, and coordination with efforts that have been outlined other climate- and sustainability plans, such as A2Zero, and other local governments, will follow.
  • The county has taken steps towards reducing its carbon footprint by replacing all fixtures in its buildings with LED lights. This could potentially reduce county government carbon emissions by up to 30%.
  • The plan will also include:
    • Climate Information of the County: historical, current conditions and future projections
    • Greenhouse Gas Inventory: The sources, causes, and projections of future greenhouse gas emissions based on technology changes and growth
    • Vulnerability Assessment – Identification of people and places most at high risk from climate changes in our county
    • Strategies and Actions: The specific actions that will be taken to achieve net zero emissions
    • Implementation Recommendations – Staffing, finance, reporting, governance
  • Resilient Washtenaw’s goal is to reach the community-wide carbon neutrality goal by 2035 and achieve the county’s carbon neutrality goal by 2030. The final draft of this plan is expected to be completed in November 2022.


David Fair: This is the 89th WEMU. Welcome to the first issue of Issues of the Environment 2022. David Fair is my name. Although some things are the same as in 2021, there have been some changes and more to come. While climate change remains in crisis, there is more work being done at all levels to improve its management, including here in Washtenaw County. Resilient Washtenaw, a program designed to make Washtenaw County carbon neutral by 2030, and total community carbon neutrality by 2035, is called. The plan is currently being drafted and will be issued in November. Our guest today is right there in the middle. Andrew DeLeeuw, Washtenaw County’s director for strategic planning, is our guest today. Andrew, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. I appreciate it.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Good morning David. I’m glad to be here. And thank you for taking the opportunity to learn more about Resilient Washtenaw.

David Fair: It’s been a while since we last discussed it. Last fall, the county board approved the hiring of Ann Arbor-based Resource Recycling Systems. This was to collect public input and collaborate with county officials in order to, as I said, develop and implement a plan to achieve Carbon Neutrality. What has changed since the day we hired you?

Andrew DeLeeuw:We’ve been working hard to establish a strong community engagement process since the beginnings of county discussions about climate change and carbon neutrality. We’ve put the public’s concerns and desires at the heart of this process. The board approved the project last fall, as you mentioned. We have a wonderful group working with our on this project and that group has really helped us shape the engagement process.

David Fair: The process will involve 55 community meetings over the course of the next few months to gather feedback. Have you decided how those meetings will be organized to gather the exact input you need to develop the action plans?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah. The 55 meetings cover both inside and outside meetings. Our plan goals address the county as an organisation and the county as a government that serves the public. We won’t have all 55 meetings with the public, but that’s not a problem. However, we’ll likely make up for it in terms of who we talk to throughout the project. We have a plan for how we will use these meetings. It’s possible to modify it as we speak with people and get their input on what they want the county do. It’s trying to reach all corners of the county, and talk not only to the many groups in the county that care about climate change but also to other people who may be affected by it, but have not yet been involved in that discussion.

David Fair: I think we had hoped that by now we would be endemic. However, we are still in a pandemic. Many of these will start anyway, likely via Zoom and online.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah, that’s correct. We are trying to find the silver lining in this. It makes it easier for people who want to attend. It does mean that you lose some of the personal interaction. We will be able to communicate with them remotely for COVID reasons. But we’ll keep an ear on that. If things change, or if it becomes possible to do it safely in-person, we’ll definitely be considering that.

David Fair: Our conversation continues with Andrew DeLeeuw (Washtenaw County Director of Strategic Planning) on WEMU’s Issues of the Environment. Andrew, 2030 may seem far off, but when you think about all the work that will be required to get county operations carbon neutral, it seems like it’s just around the corner. Are there any notable gains made towards carbon neutrality over the past five or ten years?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah. Yes. I agree with you that 2030 is close to the organizational goal. And the 2035 goal is the one that concerns me the most. We have been taking small steps in comparison to what we have done at the county level. The board approved a very significant project last year. It’s expected that it will reduce the county’s electricity usage by about a quarter of a percent and save us quite some money. We replaced all of our interior lighting fixtures. We are also looking to improve the way they operate. We still have a lot to do regarding how we heat our buildings, and the size of our fleet. The county’s organizational footprint, compared with everything else that happens within the county, is small. We’re working through our planning process to address these issues because we believe it’s important that the county is a leader by example but also responsible to the public. The county must think differently about how it works with residents and how it addresses climate change. We all have a stake in it, and we all have an interest in addressing climate change together. We need to be able to consider the role of the county in this, the role played by other local units of government, and the role of the public, as well as other institutions, during our planning process.

David Fair: As we look at 2035 it is crucial to get buy-in from both residential and commercial participants. How can you get buy-in from your strategic planning table seat?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yeah. That’s a good thing. I believe we want to meet people wherever they are. We also know that many people in our community have been directly affected by climate change. I remember the flooding last summer, when President Biden and the governor declared a national emergency. I believe the heavy rain events caused the flooding we experienced. So, we are starting to think about what other types may occur in the future and how they might affect Washtenaw County residents. We want our plan to be focused on what people are concerned about and we want the county to continue doing its work to ensure that it doesn’t change due to climate change.

David Fair: You’ve touched on the issue, but not in a specific way. I’m going this direction. We know that environmental hazards are more severe for people of color and those in lower economic strata. This means that they are often left to fend for the more affluent areas of the area when it comes time to conditions and outcomes. What role will environmental justice play in the final county plan?

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yes, you’re correct. Yes, we are aware of it. We’re working to ensure that these concerns are included in our planning process. One way we have done that is through the inclusion in our planning process of the county’s race equity office. They were there from the beginning, both in terms – you know – of the type plan we were looking for and how we engaged the public and the organisation. They will be there from the very beginning to the very end, but through the delivery of this plan to the Board of Commissioners. Another item that I’d like to mention in our planning efforts would be the inclusion of a vulnerability analysis in our plan. This is something we requested to help us identify the most vulnerable areas in our county. This is a part the study. We want to know if we know who the most at risk. Then, we will think about how we can ensure that the programs, and projects, that we have put in place, are specifically targeted at these issues. This is in line with the county’s overall approach to service delivery. We work with people in the community who are really in need of our services and want to ensure that our climate plan reflects that same approach.

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David Fair: This is WEMU, again. Andrew DeLeeuw will be our climate action planner. Andrew is the director for strategic planning in Washtenaw County. All of this will be very costly. Subsidy is necessary when we talk about helping the most vulnerable. What are the prospects given the current budget situation at both the federal and state level and the challenges we face in the county during a pandemic? What is the likelihood of being able generate the money necessary to make this plan a success.

Andrew DeLeeuw: Yes, I believe you are right. There are several examples in the area that show what it takes for this type of work. I’d like to point out, however, that significant funding is available to support the types of activities that are necessary to address climate change. We’re not just looking for new money. We’re also trying to figure out how we use the existing spending we have and incorporate our concerns about climate change into that. Nevertheless, I believe that this is not enough. We are trying to answer that question very practically as part of our planning process. It’s not only going to cost money, but also it will require people and partnerships. We’ll need to be able understand how successful we are with all of this. To that end, we are trying to make sure we’re thinking through all the details needed to implement the plan. We have a tight timeline due to the urgency of the climate. We don’t want more time lost once we have the plan and know how we’re going about it. We are in a much better financial position than we anticipated at the beginning of the pandemic. There is much uncertainty at all levels of government regarding how that would pan out. There is a lot of recognition at both the federal and state level about the importance of climate change mitigation and the opportunities that investing in climate change preparation can provide. So, while we are hopeful for support from the federal and state level, we will also be looking at local resources available to implement this plan, and how we might incorporate it into other spending.

David Fair: If you’re interested in learning more about the community engagement process and how to connect with it best, please visit our website at Andrew, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. We’ll keep in touch throughout the process.

Andrew DeLeeuw: David, thank you so much. This was fantastic. I look forward hearing from the public as our planning continues.

David Fair: Andrew DeLeeuw is the director of strategic plan in Washtenaw County. For more information, please visit WEMU dot org. Environment issues. It is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner and you can hear it every Wednesday. I’m David Fair and this is 89 on WEMU FM and WEMUHD One Ypsilanti.

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David Fair is the WEMU News Director, and hosts Morning Edition on WEMU. David can be reached at734.487.3363On Twitter@DavidFairWEMUSend an email to him

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