Knoxville City Council on Climate and Energy: Amelia Parker

Brady Watson | May 22, 2020 | Climate Change, Energy Justice, Energy Policy, Tennessee

This is the third in a series of blog posts by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) where we conducted interviews with Knoxville City Councilmembers about climate and energy issues impacting Knoxville and its residents. Each blog provides background on the council member and a summary of the interview, as well as an audio recording of the interview. Read all the blogs in the series and listen to all of the recordings here. To learn more about SACE’s work in Knoxville and our efforts to #RenewTN, go to RenewTN.org. (Note: due to technical difficulties, only a partial audio recording for the interview with Councilwoman Amelia Parker is available.) 

Background

Amelia Parker was sworn in as a City Council member At-Large, seat C on Dec. 21, 2019. Her current term ends in December of 2023. She is also the City Council member on the Knoxville Transportation Authority. Parker was born in eastern Kentucky and moved with her family to Knoxville in the early ‘80s. Parker went to Belle Morris Elementary for Kindergarten and was a member of the Girl Scouts. Later, the family moved to South Knoxville where she attended South Knox Elementary and South Middle, and after the schools in South Knox were merged, she went on to attend South-Doyle Middle and graduated from South-Doyle High. During high school, Parker worked as a weekend page at Lawson McGhee Library downtown. 

Source: Submitted by Councilmember Amelia Parker

Parker attended the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) and graduated with a B.A. in Comparative Studies of Race and Ethnicity, a degree she designed through the College Scholars program. While at UT, she served as coordinator of the campus Amnesty International chapter and was a member of the Cultural Attractions Committee and the Wesley Foundation. 

Parker graduated from American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. with specializations in International Human Rights Law and Gender and the Law, earning both her Juris Doctorate and LLM (master of laws) degrees. She volunteered with Election Protection, interned at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and served as Program Coordinator for AUW College of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. She studied at the University of Utrecht for a semester, and during the summers, she clerked for Judge Louisa Abbott in Savannah, Georgia, and volunteered at the Amnesty International office in Nederland, Colorado.

Parker returned to Knoxville in 2009 to lead Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), one of the oldest grassroots organizations in Tennessee.

In 2017, Parker ran her first campaign for a council seat, tying for second in the primary with former Tennessee State Representative Harry Tindell and then moving on to secure more than 2,000 write-in votes, 20 percent of the vote, in the general election.

Below is a summary of the interview conducted by SACE’s Civic Engagement Coordinator, Brady Watson. The questions are grouped together for better flow but were not necessarily asked in the order listed. Councilwoman Parker often brought up issues of environmental justice in her interview and expressed her desire to see even more ambitious targets set for the city. Listen to the partial recording interview here

KUB’s Recently Signed 20-year Contract with TVA

Councilwoman Parker said there were some positives to the 20-year contract Knoxville Utility Board (KUB) recently signed with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) but was disappointed that the decision was rushed and lacked community involvement. She mentioned she appreciated our recent assessment of the contract and agreed with the pros and cons we laid out.

“I see the 212 MW of solar as a positive, and the fact that we’re going to be able to pass some of that clean energy and financial savings onto utility customers. I’m happy to see that. But also, as you all outlined, it raises a lot of questions. KUB is now committed to this 20-year, auto-renewing contract and it gives us less leverage in the future.” 

Knoxville’s Carbon Reduction Goals

Knoxville’s City Council unanimously voted in the summer of 2019 to pass carbon reduction goals:

  • Cut city government emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030
  • Cut community-wide emissions 80% by 2050

While Councilwoman Parker applauded the city for setting goals, she believes the current trajectory doesn’t go far enough to address the problem. 

“We’re aware that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated we must slash global greenhouse gas emissions 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. These are the goals that we’ve all been called on to pursue and we may fall short of those goals. We may determine as a city alone we do not have the resources to meet those goals and we need federal support, maybe we need global support, but we won’t reach them if we don’t set them.” 

Knoxville Mayor’s Climate Council

Regarding the newly-formed Mayor’s Climate Council, Councilwoman Parker said she looks forward to having a cooperative working relationship with the Climate Council and stressed the need to engage community members.

“I do believe we need to ensure voices of the community, particularly those that are most impacted by a changing climate, and that environmental groups are lifted up and not overshadowed by corporate and utility voices.” 

Renewable Energy

Speaking about renewable energy, Councilwoman Parker described it as, “necessary for meeting goals, and also increasing public health and air quality.” She cited a recent American Lung Association study that found the Knoxville area had the 25th worst air quality of cities around the country as evidence of how clean, renewable energy could improve life for Knoxvillians. In addition to the public health benefits of renewable energy, Councilwoman Parker also mentioned the potential economic benefits and “green-collar” jobs that increased renewable energy generation could bring to Knoxville. 

While she wasn’t on Council at the time, Councilwoman Parker said she was supportive of the City’s LED streetlight project saying it will help the city meet its carbon reduction goals. She also expressed a desire to be more strategic when planning for future projects, and that the LED project plan “fell in our laps.” She said that reducing community emissions are a big part of the City’s carbon reduction plan, but that in the case of the LED streetlights, there was some controversy on the front end due to the cost and uncertainty surrounding new technology. She said about communicating the benefits of the City’s energy projects,

“We need to take the public through it, and show that it’s not just a bunch of dollars, but actually have a conversation about the process.” 

Energy Efficiency

Councilwoman Parker views energy efficiency programs that help buildings waste less energy as “low-hanging fruit” and a “no brainer” that should definitely be implemented. By that same token, she said that setting energy efficiency targets is important too, and could lead to more “green-collar” jobs with programs that build a workforce around energy efficiency. Like renewable energy, Parker stressed the need to include money for such programs in the City budget. 

Electric Transportation

With regard to electric transportation, Councilwoman Parker said she supports electrifying the city bus system and trolleys, and would also support an examination of other alternative forms, such as light rail. She also stressed the need to think long term, and regionally when considering transportation options.

“As Knoxville grows, we will reduce emissions, but ensure a high quality of life if people can get around,” the Councilwoman said in listing benefits of electric public transportation. 

One issue that did concern the Councilwoman with the city’s recent electric bus purchase was the manufacturing company’s labor practices. There were some employee claims of abuse by the Alabama company, but Parker said the city was continuing to monitor the situation and would make sure the company fixed the issue before purchasing any more buses.

“Along with meeting our climate goals, we can also have economic justice, fairness, and uphold workers’ rights.”

The Councilwoman said she would also be supportive of setting electric vehicle (EV) targets for the city. 

Adopting More Clean Energy Programs to Advance Climate Goals

Continuing on the theme of long-term planning, the Councilwoman closed by expressing her desire to see a multi-year climate plan that involves the city, county, utility, and community in a broad coalition with more residents engaged in local government to direct steps. She expressed her support of adopting more environmental ordinances and thinking through what’s missing. She also talked about her experience working with the City in her previous role as the Executive Director of Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment (SOCM). While at SOCM, she worked in a coalition with former mayor Madeline Rogero’s administration and other groups to develop the Knoxville Energy Alliance and Partnership for Green Jobs, which was enabled by the City’s commitment to energy efficiency. This work led to the successful Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover (KEEM) program, which helped weatherize homes for low-income residents around the city. Parker said the City could develop more programs like this to provide home weatherization to low-income households, and cut down on emissions, by looking for other financing options. The Councilwoman brought up the idea of the city implementing its own building ordinance to increase the energy efficiency of new buildings as well. 

To learn more about the movement for clean energy in Knoxville and throughout Tennessee and take action with us to #RenewTN, please visit our website at RenewTN.org.

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Brady Watson
Kansas native Brady Watson attended Kansas State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in History, and then a master’s degree in Documentary Film and History from Syracuse University.  After…
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