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South Bend Mayor Mueller speaks at Geddes Hall on environment, sustainability

| Monday, October 9, 2023

Liam Kelly | The Observer
South Bend Mayor James Mueller spoke at Geddes Hall Friday.

On Friday afternoon, South Bend Mayor James Mueller spoke in Geddes Hall about sustainability and the environment in an event hosted by the Center for Social Concerns.

Mueller earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame and his Ph.D. in ocean science from the University of Delaware. He stressed that his education, during which he studied “the physics of climate,” allowed him to get a grasp on the issue of climate change. Mueller’s time working in the United States Senate for Senator Maria Cantwell was also key in informing his environmental policy, he said.

Mueller explained how he helped draft legislation to reduce climate emissions in the United States which, although never passed, was an informative experience.

Mueller offered a sharp critique of the Inflation Reduction Act passed by President Biden last year for giving subsidies to companies for using green practices, instead of taxing companies that use fossil fuels.

“We’ve decided that we don’t want to have punitive measures to clean our energy mix,” Mueller said. “Instead, we are offering a lot of incentives. This is probably the most expensive way you can do it because essentially what we’re doing is we’re giving incentives that we’re taking from either income taxes or our other sources of revenue, and then subsidizing the new energy sources.”

Despite his critique, Mueller praised Congress for actually passing the bill and emphasized that it is now up to states, cities, organizations and individuals to determine how the money is put into use.

“At least on the climate front, we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

When it comes to South Bend, Mueller said he has been working with state and federal officials to allocate the money appropriated by the Inflation Reduction Act to green initiatives, such as providing clean energy, increasing tree cover and building more electric vehicle charging stations. Mueller particularly focused on public transportation and increased urban density as means to reduce carbon emissions in the city.

“The denser you are, the less you’re spending on energy to travel to and from. Or if you’re using mass transit, it’s actually a smaller carbon footprint than if you’re living out in the suburbs or rural areas,” he explained.

Mueller noted that public transportation systems often find themselves in a “downward spiral” in which poor service and low density causes ridership numbers to decrease, which then causes a subsequent decrease in revenue and a decline in available services. He said he hopes to combat this phenomenon.

Mueller said it might be possible to bring South Bend’s Amtrak station to downtown in “the next few years,” but bringing the South Shore Line station downtown would be a longer-term project. 

“I agree with our former mayor, current Secretary of Transportation — you know, trains are meant to go downtown to downtown and that’s how they were designed,” Mueller emphasized. “That’s what makes sense.”

At the same time, Mueller did say he is committed to bringing the train travel time from South Bend to Chicago down to 90 minutes and confirmed the South Shore’s current station will be relocated to the other side of the airport in order to reduce the travel time. 

Mueller said he has been working with U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in order to improve public transportation in South Bend. Mueller said he hopes to share an announcement on public transportation “soon,” but could not do so yet.

Mueller also spoke about the importance of building more affordable housing downtown in order to increase density.

“We know we need more affordable housing. We know the market by itself is not producing enough housing units for the people in this country, in the city,” he said.

Mueller pledged that the government would help subsidize this housing, which he hoped would be in mixed income neighborhoods.

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