A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT
I have been out in front on just about every major environmental fight in the county over the last thirty years, which is why I've been endorsed by the Green Democrats and many of the county's leading environmental activists.
I believe climate change is the defining environmental issue of our time, so my top environmental priority is reducing the county’s greenhouse gas emissions. I authored a resolution, along with several of my colleagues, calling for major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: we committed to pursuing an 80 percent reduction by 2027 and a complete elimination by 2035. I also pushed to make sure that a second environmental resolution stated that, by 2020, dirty sources of energy (such as energy produced by our county’s waste incinerator) should lose the subsidies they currently get under state law. Though the county currently calls ourselves “carbon neutral," our greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by more than 35% since 2005 (from 114,000 to 156,985 metric tons). We won’t achieve our goals if we set our sights low; we must develop concrete action steps right now.
A greenhouse gas reduction plan should include actions that the county government can take as well as incentives and education to encourage citizen action. One step would be to focus on more clean energy generation, including accelerating and expanding our efforts to put solar panels on public buildings and surface parking lots wherever possible. I just introduced legislation to both require homebuilders to offer a solar option when constructing single-family homes and townhouses and require commercial buildings to have reflective roofs, green roofs, or solar roofs. If passed, this legislation would help drive the development of solar capacity.
I also intend to introduce a resolution calling for our incinerator contract to expire in 2021. I actually was part of the coalition that fought the incinerator from the beginning and was the councilmember who insisted (along with Tom Hucker) that all combustion-based energy, including incineration, is dirty energy and should not be eligible for energy subsidies. We need to aggressively increase our recycling goals, particularly for sectors that are not performing well, and add food composting to our recycling program.
Implementation of the bus rapid transit (BRT) system I’ve advocated for throughout my time on the County Council, if done right, also has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions; in fact, the environmental benefits of public transportation are a large part of what prompted me to explore this solution to our congestion problems. Building the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) and adding the BRT up 355 (as I’ve proposed) would, when coupled with improvements on 355, offer alternatives to projects like M-83. I am the only candidate who opposed the sprawl-inducing environmental disaster known as the Intercounty Connector (ICC) and have long stood up for environmentally responsible transit solutions; I will continue to do so in the future.
I also support developing microgrids, providing charging stations in public buildings, electrifying county vehicles, and getting the county to divest from the Carbon Underground 200, which I have been pushing us to do.
Another priority is to address clean drinking water in environmentally sensitive ways. I have been working with environmentalists to prevent sewer systems serving development from undermining what we’ve been doing to protect our creeks. I will oppose any waivers from water quality and quantity standards as well as reductions of buffer zones meant to protect streams from adjacent development.
I am the councilmember who first raised the possibility of cleaning up Watts Branch to remove the sediment - which was a cause of the failure of the Potomac Water Treatment Plant - instead of building the Submerged Channel Intake (the cost of which has ballooned from $25 million to $83 million; the intake would not reduce the discharge from Watts Branch and would thus leave the Potomac no cleaner despite this large investment). As County Executive, I would work to bring the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPCC), the Department of the Environment, and various other agencies and organizations together to focus on water cleanup that both cleans our drinking water and protects and improves the environment.
Other accomplishments of mine include:
- Shielding the C&O Canal from encroachment of new construction along its boundary and within the viewshed by requiring an appropriate buffer to protect the beauty of the canal and prevent harmful environmental impacts from buildings too close to the canal.
- Sponsoring and passing legislation - twice - to prohibit new mega-gas stations near residential, recreational, and educational locations.
- Fighting to eliminate the cosmetic use of pesticides and tire-waste products on playing fields and for natural grass over artificial turf (I was the first and only councilmember to vote against using crumb rubber on ball fields until the ABC story on girls soccer brought national attention to the issue and the council finally acted).
Saving Ten Mile Creek
One of my proudest accomplishments was being the first councilmember to work with environmentalists in their efforts to save Ten Mile Creek - my advocacy beginning in October of 2009 laid the groundwork for the success in 2013.
In 1994, the extremely controversial Clarksburg Master Plan contained only limited protections for the Creek, but the staging the four dissenting councilmembers were able to include gave future councils four options. In 2009, then-Councilmember Michael Knapp, at the urging of property owners and would-be developers, proposed the option to allow increased development in Ten Mile Creek with only a few conditions that environmentalists and I did not believe would have been sufficient to protect the creek. I argued that we could only be certain to protect Ten Mile Creek if we selected the option of a limited master plan review to consider changes in land use. With strong support from the environmental community, I persuaded my council colleagues to form a working group to consider the relative merits of these options; the group, comprised of developers, county agency representatives, environmentalists, and community representatives, met regularly for almost a year, conducting a fair and impartial review of all available information.
In the end, a majority of the working group voted to recommend a limited master plan amendment to the Clarksburg plan, and in 2012 - after the Planning, Housing, & Economic Development (PHED) committee had declined to act on the recommendations - I wrote the County Executive to urge that the master plan be reopened. After that, I worked with my colleagues, explained the science of the watershed and the need to be science-based, and helped spur their involvement in this effort as well. The subsequent passage of the Ten Mile Creek Limited Master Plan Amendment is, in my opinion, one of the best things we’ve done for the county’s environment in recent years.
- Promoting the bag tax and fighting efforts to weaken it.
- Supporting increased stormwater protection fees.
- Pushing for staging in master plans, which is the only real way to make them reduce auto usage and promote transit.
- Testifying before the state for stricter standards for the Dickerson coal plant.
- Leading the fight at the Council of Governments (COG) Transportation Planning Board (TPB) for over a year to oppose the second crossing of the Potomac. The TPB ultimately voted against the second crossing when the new staff analysis showed that it should not be considered a high priority given its limited benefits, its high cost, and the regional scarcity of resources.
- Sponsoring legislation to protect our tree canopy and street trees. Before two county tree bills were passed in 2013, my staff and I drafted a canopy protection bill that was stronger than the bills the County Council eventually passed in 2013. Our bill died in the Transportation and Environment Committee thanks to developer pushback, but I co-sponsored the County Roadside Tree Law that was passed in 2013 and worked with community activists to ensure that County Executive Leggett’s urban canopy legislation was successful.
I have also made environmental causes a top priority in my personal life - I drive an electric car and have added a number of energy-efficiency improvements to my home. As County Executive, I would ensure that the county is leading on environmental issues as well.