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When a Red State Mayor Goes Green

Mayor Stephen Benjamin hopes to convert Columbia, South Carolina, to 100-percent clean energy.
Main Street in Columbia, facing the dome of the South Carolina State House
Main Street in Columbia, facing the dome of the South Carolina State HouseJonathan Ernst/Reuters

In late April, the Sierra Club announced a national initiative called Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy, a coalition of U.S. mayors who want to switch their communities to an all-renewable-energy diet. One of the mayors signing on as co-chair was Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina. A Democrat and the city’s first black mayor, Benjamin hopes to wean the state capital of 134,000 people off fossil fuels in the years to come.

Unlike the leaders of cities like Boulder, Santa Monica, Burlington, and many other towns known as sustainability trailblazers, Columbia is in a red state. (Benjamin jokes that he lives in “the F-150 community” because locals love their cars and trucks.) For now, his commitment is mostly symbolic—although mayoral endorsements can lead to city-council resolutions down the line, as happened in St. Petersburg, Florida, last year.