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Members of environmental committee appointed

By Grace Lovins

Birmingham city commissioners selected nine members for the city’s newly formed ad hoc environmental sustainability committee at their meeting on Monday, March 27, who will work to start work on the city’s sustainability goals and climate action plan for the next 18 months.

The committee was to be comprised of members with a knowledge of sustainability with areas of expertise in either energy, equity, civil construction or engineering, water quality, environmental engineering, consulting or law, recycling and solid waste. Commissioners reviewed applications from 15 individuals and heard from 13 candidates during the meeting.

Selected candidates include: Joseph Mercurio, a Birmingham native for nearly 34 years, is an automotive engineer with experience in electric and fuel cell vehicle programs for trucks, buses, construction equipment and locomotives. Mercurio spent his career at GM and holds a PhD in Biological and Environmental Engineering. He was selected to fill the energy and electric vehicles focused position.

Jess Newman, a two-year resident of the city, is currently senior director of agriculture and sustainability at McCain Foods. She has experience working on sustainability strategies for municipalities, per her application, and was previously the senior director of agronomy and sustainability at Anheuser-Busch. Newman was selected as a resident-at-large.

Rachna Gulati, a startup COO, was selected to serve as a regular member with a waster focus. A five-year resident of Birmingham, Gulati had previously served on the environmental board of Royal Oak supporting sustainability initiatives. She also served as a product director at Recyclebank for two years.

Lois DeBacker, who has lived in Birmingham for 15 years, was selected as a regular member with a focus on environmental law and consulting. Currently a philanthropic program manager, DeBacker has spent years in environmental philanthropy with an expertise in environmental justice, climate mitigation and adaptation, and water quality. She previously worked in the state government on environmental policy.

Debra Horner, a researcher at University of Michigan, will serve as a regular member with a focus on water and stormwater. She has conducted research on the state’s local governments, including community sustainability, recycling efforts, and energy policy. She has lived in Birmingham for 30 years.

Lara Edwards, development director of Friends of the Rouge, will serve as a regular member, also with a focus on water and stormwater. A 15-year resident of Birmingham, Edwards has previously served on the multimodal transportation board and an ad hoc traffic calming committee. She also has experience with program development and familiarity with sustainability, per her application.

Daniella Torcolacci will be serving as a regular member with a focus on energy. She has been a resident of Birmingham for nine years. Torcolacci holds a degree in sustainable development from University of Michigan and has worked for roughly 15 years in renewable energy and sustainable development.

Danielle Todd will serve as a regular member. Her background includes time as an executive with an environmental nonprofit with experience in food waste reduction.

Albert Harvey Bell, IV, currently a professor in the College of Engineering at University of Michigan, worked at GM for nearly four decades, part of which his job involved reducing exhaust emissions. He has been a resident of Birmingham for 75 years. Bell was selected to serve as a regular member with a focus on building and construction.

Four members of the committee will also be staff from the manager’s office, planning and engineering departments and the department of public services, serving as ex-officio members. All appointed members will serve an 18-month term, expected to conclude on September 27, 2024.

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