As Fairfax County prepares to update its formal Environmental Vision, the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS) is calling on local elected officials to recommit to the environmental protection pledge they adopted under then-Chairman Gerry Connolly. The non-profit coalition of about 50 interfaith communities sent a red-clad contingent to support the FACS members registered to speak at the Feb. 28 meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. One after another, the speakers praised the supervisors for the county’s environmental stance, but urged them to renew their dedication to the goals outlined in the pledge.
Coming from different walks of life and offering different perspectives, those who testified were united in asking the board to establish an office to oversee the transition to clean energy in the county. Peter Clifford, representing FACS member Unity Church of Fairfax, called for a department with the “authority and responsibility to address what you established” in the initial pledge. “Establishing firm goals and regular measurement,” Clifford said, was the key to success in this endeavour.
In her testimony, pediatrician Dr. Samantha Adhoot of Alexandria acknowledged that the county is in a tight budget climate, but, echoing the request for an office for environmental advocacy, she warned that environmental issues were also “public health issues,” with more cases of Lyme disease, asthma and other respiratory conditions occurring with the longer seasons of unusual warmth.
THE COOL COUNTIES Climate Stabilization Declaration, as the pledge is officially named, established the goal of reducing the D.C. region’s overall greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. It was signed on July 16, 2007. In the 10 years since, it’s difficult to tell if progress is being made by Fairfax County, according to Eric Goplerud, chairman and co-founder of FACS.
In an opinion piece recently published in the Washington Post, Goplerud argues that statements about the county’s efforts, made by Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, may confuse residents. In her post of Feb. 6, Bulova cited a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per capita for the county. Goplerud says the chairman was referencing a report by the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (WMCOG) published in April of 2016 and covering the years between 2005-2012. Not a timely piece of evidence in Goplerud’s view.
Goplerud also points out that the Cool Counties commitment is for a “total reduction,” in emissions, versus per capita. When the data is reviewed from that perspective, given the population growth in the county, carbon pollution may actually have risen, as the county’s own 2013 “Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory” indicates. That report shows yearly greenhouse gas emissions in the county as having risen by 3 percent between 2006 and 2010, somewhat at odds with the WMCOG that credited the county with a 2 percent overall decrease in emissions during its last study period.
Kambiz Agazi, the county’s environmental coordinator, has said that the lag in providing emissions data is due to the time it takes to compile the complex information, but that the county is committed to publishing the data every three years.
Goplerud and other speakers from FACS aren’t willing to accept that delay. While they admit that there is an enormous amount of information to be recorded and analysed, the FACS says that Fairfax need only look at their immediate neighbors to see that measuring energy activity can be done with much more expediency.
The FACS cites Arlington County, Montgomery County in Maryland, and the District as examples of jurisdictions with more current data. Arlington reports a 21 percent reduction, Montgomery County a 10 percent decrease, and the District more than a 20 percent improvement. Fairfax provides a number of bar graphs on their “Energy Data” website to display usage of electricity and natural gas and their “equivalent carbon emissions in metric tons” in government buildings sorted by category, but there are notations cautioning that “the data is limited by the way the facilities are metered.” There are no measurements for private buildings or emission outputs related to transportation for comparison sake at this web location, but the 2013 Greenhouse Gas Inventory does include detailed measurements of emissions by source, as of 2010.
While it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison on the actual results among the localities because of the types of buildings that each includes in their reporting and the dates studied, the data that the others provide is more up-to-date than what is published for Fairfax County. Goplerud and other local environmental activists believe that the difference is due in great part to those jurisdictions having dedicated energy efficiency offices to tackle the issues versus the “lone coordinator” the county employs, despite being the largest jurisdiction in the region.
The county and the activists agree that the county itself is only responsible for about 3 percent of the emissions produced in the area. The speakers all praised the county’s efforts to improve their own performance, but pointed again to the goals of the Cool Counties pledge — significant emissions reductions for the region, not just the public sector which comprises such a small percentage of the emissions problem. Some, like Clifford, and FACS executive director Reba Elliott, also reminded the supervisors that much of the improvement in recent years can be attributed to the local utility companies change from coal to natural gas as the generators for their power.
“I don’t think we will see such a change” from the utility companies again, said Clifford. Instead, it’s “up to public-private partnerships” like the work being done in Arlington County with LEAP (The Local Energy Alliance Program).
Before the meeting, Elliott added that citizens rely on the county to use their knowledge and resources and their power to educate businesses and the public, guiding them on working toward the energy goals that “are in the best health and economic interests of us all.”
AT THE CONCLUSION of the Public Comment period, Bulova expressed the board’s thanks to the FACS speakers “for their advocacy.” She spoke briefly about the county’s “Energy Dashboard” which launched Phase I in March 2016 to provide an overview of the energy usage between 2006 through 2014 in four key service areas: county Government Buildings, Public Works, Parks and Housing and Human Services. The information was updated in August of 2016 to add data for usage in 2015.
Phase 2 of the Dashboard, completed in November of last year, added additional detail and in January, graphics and tables were included to show the reduction in equivalent carbon emissions.
“Thank you for pushing us for [the dashboard],” Bulova said to the FACS members. She made note of the Environmental Vision update underway, and announced that later in the year she would be reconvening her “Private Sector Energy Taskforce” for study and recommendations on how to more forward.
“It’s sounds very positive,” said Ray Martin after the meeting. Martin was one of the FACS supporters in attendance and belongs to the Lewinsville Presbyterian Church. “But we really need that dedicated office [of Energy]. We’re here to help and do what we can. I hope they will try harder.”
The Energy Dashboard can be found at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/energy/energydata. A description of the county’s efforts, with links to other resources, is available in the Fairfax County Sustainability Initiative at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/living/environmental/sustainability/. The Cool Counties Pledge is also on the county’s website.