City leaders who gathered in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual winter meeting were decidedly upbeat about the economy and their ability to have a voice in shaping federal policies, including those dealing with energy, water infrastructure and climate change.

Speaking to reporters on Jan. 22 at the opening of the three-day meeting, Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith (R) said, “The tone of this conference is much different than the funeral wake we've experienced in the past.” 

Smith, the current president of the mayors' conference, pointed to a new economic survey showing that nearly all the nation's 363 metro areas are projected to see real economic growth in 2014—up dramatically from 2013, when 97 had declining economies.

The mayors' conference also released a survey that found that, despite budget constraints, mayors expect their cities, over the next five years, to increase spending significantly in technologies that reduce energy use and consumption.

Shane Bemis (R), mayor of Gresham, Ore., told reporters, “Cities are expanding their investments in energy technologies, with two-thirds of the nearly 300 cities participating saying that they expect increased deployments of new energy systems over the next five years.”

One of the top energy-efficiency priorities cited in the survey was building retrofits, which ranked third on the list, after installing solar systems and LED and other energy-efficient lighting.

According to the mayors' survey, cities increasingly are looking to the private sector and city funds to help pay for new energy investments. In the previous energy survey, in 2011, the top source of funds was the federal government. “Our federal partner needs to re-engage,” Bemis said. It was a positive sign that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz came to speak at the mayors' meeting, he added. 

Moniz told Bemis’ energy committee that he wanted to develop a closer relationship with city and state leaders. “When I started at the [Dept. of Energy], I said I wanted to up [our] game with cities, states and regions,” he said. 

Moniz and Bob Perciasepe, Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator, who spoke before the mayors' conference environmental committee, said some of the most innovative ideas arise from the cities, not the federal government.

Perciasepe said he welcomed input from mayors on solutions for addressing continuing challenges, such as climate change and water-infrastructure financing. 

Perciasepe also said he was encouraged by progress made in developing a framework that can give cities more flexibility in financing and prioritizing water infrastructure projects. But some of the mayors on the water and environment committees noted that the integrated planning (IP3) framework still needs to be refind. Lima, Ohio, Mayor David Berger (D) said his city submitted an IP3 plan almost a year ago but has not yet received a response from the EPA.

Dan Utech, special assistant to President Obama for energy and climate change, said he expects the president's climate-change and resilience task force, which comprises state, tribal and local leaders, to work “hand-in-glove” with a federal interagency council that is tackling the same issues.

Moniz acknowledged that the current stalemate in Congress over climate change will hinder the administration’s progress on the issue. Although the administration will do what it can to address climate change within its existing authorities, he added, “Clearly, without legislation, we are going to be limited in what we can do.”