RALEIGH — The City of Oaks is getting another green award.
Raleigh has been named the country's most sustainable midsize community by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor Charles Meeker announced the honor Tuesday, saying Raleigh has not wavered from its commitment to the environment even during the recession. Fittingly, Meeker stood beneath low-energy lights in his City Hall office to show off the plaque.
The announcement came a few weeks after Forbes.com ranked Raleigh No. 3 among "America's Least Toxic Cities," in a feature on environmentally healthy communities.
The U.S. Chamber recognized Raleigh for a green-building worker training course that taught more than 200 people in the first year; an electric plug-in vehicle program that will bring up to 30 charging stations by September; and one of the nation's two convention centers with a LEED silver rating. The other is in Pittsburgh.
"Whether you believe in climate change or not, these technologies over time will lead us to be more efficient," Meeker said. "Everyone agrees that being more efficient, and having lower taxes, is the right way to go."
Energy savings from LED lights in city-owned buildings amounts to $165,171 per year; and overall savings, including maintenance, totals $226,611 per year, city officials say. The LED lights also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1,286 tons per year.
Raleigh beat 49 cities that applied in the midsize category (50,000 to 500,000 residents), including finalists North Little Rock, Ark., and Pittsburgh. The prize comes with a $20,000 award that will pay for trees along public streets.
Previous winners in the midsize category are Grand Rapids, Mich.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Chapel Hill-Carrboro.
The winner among large cities was San Jose, Calif. The small community prize went to Greensburg, Kan., a two-mile-wide town leveled by a tornado in 2007. The town is rebuilding from the ground up based on sustainable principles.
Forbes examined the 80 largest U.S. metro areas for which toxicity data is available. The Forbes study looked at air and water quality and pollution in the Raleigh-Cary metro area covering Wake, Johnston and Franklin counties. In it:
Raleigh ranked No. 1 in the country for water quality. After high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution were found in Falls Lake, officials passed rules last year on new and existing development, agriculture, sewer and septic treatment and discharge.
The city placed No. 41 on the list of 80 for air quality. The city added hybrids to its vehicle fleet and launched a downtown hybrid electric bus system. In November, the city installed its first two PEV charging stations and plans a total of 30 by September.
Raleigh placed 24th in Superfund sites, which are uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located.
Fresh off the publicity, Raleigh will welcome two eco-friendly groups this summer for national conventions.
About 5,000 visitors are expected in May for a meeting of the American Solar Energy Society. The Plug-In 2011 Conference & Exposition hits town in July with electric car displays and 20 exhibitors.
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