ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County and the Town of Ithaca have been commended by New York State for their strides combating climate change. Recently, the county and town were the first communities in the Southern Tier to be named Certified Climate Smart Communities.

An an event Tuesday at the Tompkins County Recycling and Solid Waste Center in Ithaca, Department of Environmental Conservation Region 7 Director Matthew Marko congratulated the county and Town of Ithaca for addressing and preparing for climate change.

“Now more than ever it is important that states and local communities stand up to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening our resiliency to extreme weather events,” Marko said. “Without federal leadership, it’s up to leaders like Governor Cuomo and New York’s ambitious clean energy standard, and communities like yours to do what’s necessary.”

While several other local municipalities — including the City of Ithaca, Caroline, Danby, Dryden and Ulysses — have taken the Climate Smart Communities pledge, Tompkins County and the Town of Ithaca are the first communities in the Southern Tier to be certified.

Being a Certified Climate Smart Community may come with financial assistance.

Related: DEC commissioner commends Tompkins County for being a ‘Climate Smart Community’

Between 2008 and 2014, Tompkins County reduced greenhouse gas emissions of county operations by 53 percent and reduced community greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent. Those reductions put the community and county government ahead of its target goal of a 20 percent reduction by 2020.

By 2050, Tompkins County aims to have at least an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 levels.

The Climate Smart Communities program was initiated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014.

“New York continues to make significant strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and by joining forces with communities across the state and the nation, we are combating climate change to provide a more sustainable environment for future generations of New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a news release. “I commend Tompkins County and the town of Ithaca for supporting these clean energy initiatives, and I encourage municipalities across New York to follow their lead and become Certified Climate Smart Communities.”

Legislator Martha Robertson, D-Dryden, said she wants the county to continue its positive efforts. Robertson said she hopes being designated a Certified Climate Smart Community will help bring funding for an energy navigator position. An energy navigator would help local builders and building owners improve the efficiency of their buildings.

To become certified as a Climate Smart Community, local governments must take a number of actions laid out by the DEC, such as developing a government operations and community greenhouse gas emissions inventory, establishing reduction targets and conducting energy audits of local government buildings.

Legislature Chair Mike Lane, D-Dryden, said part of reaching the long-term goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent, is getting people to think differently. For example, Lane said, 25 to 30 years ago, people were asking what to do with landfills and waste. Now, recycling and compost are commonplace.

Lane said Tompkins County is proud to be in the forefront in New York State, which is also in the forefront trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is vital for our local communities to reduce emissions and energy use while preparing for climate change impacts,” Lane said.

In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the county has also focused on investing in alternative energy sources like solar, Lane said.

Last month, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos sent a letter commending Tompkins County for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2014 and helping address climate change, which Seggos wrote is “the defining issue of our generation.”

Marko said as New York experiences more extreme weather events like floods, damaging snow and ice storms and heat waves, he said “it is inspiring to see local governments like Tompkins County and Ithaca face the challenge of climate change with determination and creative solutions.”

Hosting the event at the Tompkins County Recycling and Solid Waste Center in Ithaca was a chance to highlight a new project that will take place at the center. It will be the site of a new commercial business food scraps program funded by the Climate Smart Communities Grant program.

To learn more about how Tompkins County has been more sustainable in areas like energy, transportation, reducing waste and buildings, read our previous coverage with highlights from 2016.

Featured image: From left, Legislator Mike Lane, DEC Region 7 Director Matt Marko, and Legislator Martha Robertson stand with the Climate Smart Communities Certification. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.