Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto this week called for a "Marshall Plan for the Midwest" and a national challenge to fight climate change, while Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell separately urged the creation of a federal department focused on resiliency.
The pair joined other mayors on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before the first hearing of U.S. Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Peduto said the plan would help every city and town left behind by the changing economy to create programs and jobs in renewable energy, build a cleaner economy and address the intersection of climate change and inequity.
"What needs to happen is there need to be federal programs created that aren't just looking at how much our carbon reduction is, but what the economic benefit will be, what the opportunities for employment will be, how this will help areas that have been left behind," Peduto said.
The partnerships and collaboration harnessed by the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Smart City Challenge, won by Columbus, Ohio in 2016, could serve as a model for the battle against climate change, Peduto said.
He added that giving cities and regional groups the opportunity to compete for grant money could be further incentive to look to the future under a contest that could involve "[coming] up with what the next area of transportation will look like that would benefit the planet and people and others, and then forcing us to create partnerships within our own cities to be able to look at a $50 million grant."
Caldwell and Peduto testified before the committee alongside St. Paul, Minnesota Mayor Melvin Carter, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Portland, Oregon Mayor Ted Wheeler, addressing cities' efforts to battle climate change in the face of the federal government's inaction on the issue.
Government scientists and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) have warned that time is running out for the world to act on climate change. But the onus has been on action at the local level after President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord and rolled back numerous environmentally-friendly regulations.
Trump recently touted his administration's work on climate leadership, saying he fights for a cleaner environment "every day of my presidency." Peduto rejected that assertion in his testimony.
"We cannot equivocate on debating the facts: the lack of attention from the White House and Congress is causing us as a country to lose ground in the spaces of innovation, economic opportunity and technological advancement," he said.
The five mayors testifying are among a group known as the Climate Mayors, which brings together city leaders to share ideas and best practices. They are also each part of the American Cities Climate Challenge, sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies, and said they are taking action at the local level to reduce carbon emissions and clean their local environments.
But despite local action, all five mayors said the federal government must do more. Caldwell said a national department focused on resiliency would be a strong step, as it would be less affected by the political headwinds that can come through Washington, D.C. and upend years of progress on tackling climate change.
"How do we continue to build on the platform that came before us? I think if you institutionalize it, fund it and staff it, you’re going to have more success and making sure we stay the course," Caldwell said. He also urged Congress to support the recently-introduced Complete Streets Act, which would promote safer street design and encourage fewer people to drive.
The committee of 10 Democrats promised to continue studying climate change and holding more hearings, and pledged to do all it can to partner with governments at all other levels as well as the private sector. Committee chair Brian Schatz, D-HI, said that the aim is to "build a big tent for climate action."