Environmental Groups Say County Isn’t Doing Enough on Climate Change

Environmental Groups Say County Isn’t Doing Enough on Climate Change

New survey examines efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, promote renewable energy

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A coalition of Montgomery County environmental groups says the county isn’t doing enough to solve a “climate crisis” since County Executive Marc Elrich came into office nearly six months ago.

MOCO Coalition for 80% by ’27 is out with a first-ever “climate scorecard” for Montgomery County, which gives the county a rating of 32 out of 100, based on four areas of study: infrastructure, transportation, buildings and energy.

The coalition’s name is built around the county’s goal of cutting the county’s carbon emissions to 80% of current levels by 2027.

Jim Driscoll, coordinator of the coalition, said county leaders must take steps such determining the energy consumption of county buildings, encouraging the use of electric cars and urging  residents to switch to renewable energy, as was done in Takoma Park.

“How else do we actually act like it’s an emergency?” Driscoll said.

Driscoll also criticized Elrich’s predecessor, Isiah Leggett, in an email blast, for signing a contract extension of the county’s trash-burning incinerator in Dickerson, which Elrich previously committed to close by the end of his first term in three years.

Elrich has currently budgeted $32 million for the Department of Environmental Protection for fiscal 2020, an increase from the $30.7 million Leggett budgeted for the current fiscal year.

Elrich has also set a series of ambitious goals, including zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and dramatically increase the county’s recycling rate. The county produced about 28,000 metric tons of carbon in fiscal 2017 according to the department.

County council member Hans Riemer said he will request $400,000 be added to the budget to help achieve the goals.

Funds would be divided into two areas — one for “technical, programmatic, workgroup and outreach” efforts in reaching the carbon emissions goal, and the other would support a “hazard and vulnerability assessment” for adaptation to climate change.

“We have an ambitious climate action agenda, and the challenge is figuring out the order of steps that we should take, and what’s the most cost effective use of funding,” Riemer said.  “It’d be nice to know what gets the most bang for the buck, and we don’t really have that evaluative tool.”

Riemer said that he agreed with many of Elrich’s environmental goals, but that his incinerator proposal wasn’t the most practical.

“Some of us are feeling like the executive’s focus on the incinerator is not really the best way forward in terms of reducing your climate impact,” he said.

Council member Tom Hucker said that he wanted to leave it open as to how the $400,000 would be divided.

“I don’t think we know how much it costs to address adaptation versus transportation versus emissions,” he said.

Elrich acknowledged in a statement that the county “has a long way to go” in achieving its greenhouse gas reduction goal, but that he is giving the issue “renewed attention.”

“This summer, the County will embark on a climate planning effort to develop a roadmap of prioritized actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We look forward to engaging with all facets of the Montgomery County community as we plan the path to net zero emissions,” he said.

Driscoll said he thinks it’s encouraging that the council hopes to increase funding for environmental protection, but said the steps the county is taking still aren’t enough.

“You can’t talk to a climate activist who’s satisfied with what the county’s doing,” he said.

The groups participating in the coalition are 350 MoCo, with 2,000 members; The Climate Mobilization, with 400 members; Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, with 38 area congregations; and The Montgomery County Green Party, with several hundred members.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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