Climate Change Activists Accuse Montgomery County of ‘Inaction’
Elrich: "We need you all to create a movement"
Montgomery County Planning Board Vice Chair Natali Fani-Gonzalez, second from left, addresses hundreds of activists at a “climate emergency” town hall meeting on Saturday at the Silver Spring Civic Center. From left: WAMU environment reporter Jacob Fenston, the moderator; Fani-Gonzalez; County Council member Tom Hucker, a member of the Transportation and Environment Committee; County Executive Marc Elrich; and Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Adriana Hochberg, an environmental policy adviser.
Photos by Glynis Kazanjian
Activists held county officials’ feet to the fire at a “climate emergency” town hall meeting Saturday in Silver Spring.
Hundreds showed up to ask what has been done since the County Council passed a 2017 climate emergency resolution with goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent in 2027 and 100 percent by 2035.
“Nothing,” said keynote speaker Danielle Meitiv, a climate scientist and 2018 County Council candidate. “Climate groups in the county have given the government a score of 32 out of 100 for inaction on this issue so far.”
A climate report scorecard was issued by a consortium of climate organizations in the county, including 350MoCo, Faith Alliance Climate Solutions, Green Democrats, Montgomery Greens and The Climate Mobilization Montgomery County.
The event was led by Takoma Park Mobilization. More than 30 advocacy groups were sponsors.
Officials were measured on action in the following categories: building, energy generation, infrastructure and planning, and transportation.
County officials were quick to say they are on board to advance the cause, but they can’t do it alone. A broader reach to the county’s diverse constituency was necessary.
“We need you all to create a movement,” County Executive Marc Elrich said. “Change doesn’t come from where we sit.”
Elrich said he said he is thinking about how to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The county has made smaller impacts, too, including the formation of work groups this summer.
“I am going to introduce legislation requiring all new houses and townhouses by a certain date to have solar roofs,” Elrich said. “That’s a big way to make a dent in getting things done by 2027. I’m looking at 2021 or 2022 as a deadline for starting that.”
He said the county has entered into a pilot program with Montgomery County Public Schools testing the use of electric-powered school buses, but the school system has shown reluctance toward the program.
The county has also switched 40 of its approximately 1,300 fleet car inventory to electric vehicles, Elrich said.
Other legislation expected to be introduced this fall will include creating a task force to study building energy performance standards, said Adriana Hochberg, an assistant chief administrative officer, environmental policy adviser and climate change coordinator for the county.
“More than 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from county buildings,” she said.
“Deep energy retrofits” for existing buildings above a certain size is an example of something the task force could study, Hochberg said.
Creating more efficient uses of energy through the building envelope, lighting and windows are other examples.
Hochberg said financial incentives through Montgomery County’s Green Bank program and technical assistance could also be offered.
Panelist Naeem Alam countered that the costs associated with retrofitting could cause gentrification.
“No one wants to pay higher rent,” Alam said.
Elrich was asked if he would support having all new buildings in the county by 2027 become “net zero energy,” meaning energy used by the building is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site or by other renewable energy sources offsite.
“I would like to get there and a building code to make that possible,” Elrich said.
Council member Tom Hucker, who represents the 5th District, said the issue finally has the necessary traction to move forward, but elected officials need help from the community.
Audience members and panelists called for an information campaign for residents.
“As they say, if people lead, leaders will follow,” Hucker said. “Now we are going to try and do everything we can to meet the challenge and get to the very ambitious goals we set, but we can’t do it by ourselves. We need your help.”
Elrich seconded the call.
“The problem is turning perception and reality into everybody’s perception and reality.”