Happy Earth Day!
Since 1970, Earth Day has been a time to focus on what we need to do to protect our planet. While it’s easy to feel discouraged by the Trump administration’s assault on our natural resources, there’s much we can do in Montgomery County to protect our communities and maintain our quality of life. This past week, in fact, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals sided with residents who have been engaged in an eight-year battle to prohibit Costco from building a 16-pump mega gas station at the Westfield Wheaton Mall.
The court confirmed what I have long worked with community activists to show: mega gas stations can present a threat to the health and well-being of nearby residents. Because they can expose people to dangerous fumes from pumps and to exhaust from idling cars, there should be a buffer between these stations and areas where families live, work, and play. That’s why I’ve sponsored and passed legislation twice – in 2012 and 2015 – to create such a buffer. My second Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) on this issue, passed in December 2015, made it county law that homes, schools, parks and daycare centers should all be at least 500 feet from a mega gas station.
I was especially concerned, in the case of the proposed Wheaton Mall station, with its proximity to the Stephen Knolls School, which serves children and young adults with developmental disabilities. And I am heartened to see that the persistence of the surrounding community and the scientific evidence has prevailed in causing this location to be rethought.
Over the years, Montgomery County’s environmental community and I have teamed up to win other important fights, too. One example is the fight to save Ten Mile Creek, one of the county’s last pristine sources of water. I was the first County Councilmember to work with environmentalists in their efforts to save the creek, with my advocacy beginning in October of 2009 laying the groundwork for the eventual success in 2013.
Then-councilmember Michael Knapp, at the urging of property owners and would-be developers, had proposed allowing 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 conducted a limited master plan review to consider changes in land use and, with strong support from the environmental community, I persuaded my council colleagues to form a working group to conduct a fair and impartial review of all available information. Then, when the Planning, Housing, & Economic Development (PHED) committee declined to act on the working group’s recommendations, I wrote to the County Executive to urge that the master plan for Clarksburg be reopened. 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.
We haven’t won all of our fights, of course - while I opposed the Intercounty Connector, for instance, that environmental and sprawl-inducing disaster got built. But we’ve made progress in limiting pesticide use, promoting natural grass fields, protecting our tree canopy, and shielding the C&O canal from encroachment. Currently, we are working to increase our solar capacity and to shut down the polluting incinerator in Dickerson.
As your next County Executive, I would continue to make sure that we’re embodying the principles behind Earth Day 365 days a year. I believe that’s why I’ve been endorsed by the Green Democrats and multiple prominent Montgomery County environmentalists. They and I agree that we’re in this together and that our lives and future generations are at stake.
To read more about my environmental record and what I intend to do for the planet as County Executive, please see my website. Thank you, and happy Earth Day!