Tag Archives: climate change

Climate & Energy, Environment

April Showers Bring May Flowers (and Attention to D.C. Region’s Climate Resiliency)

While the rain poured down at historic levels this April, representatives from 20 federal, regional and local agencies gathered in the U.S. General Services Agency (GSA) Headquarters in the District of Columbia to brainstorm strategies to lessen the impacts of both gradual changes in climate and more extreme weather events as a result climate change. […]

Climate & Energy, Environment, Transportation

For 2014, Get Involved in Regional Transportation, Environmental Issues

Looking for a civic-minded New Year’s resolution? How about getting involved in transportation, air quality or climate and energy planning in the D.C. region? Two public advisory committees housed at the Council of Governments are recruiting new members—the Air and Climate Public Advisory Committee (ACPAC) and the Transportation Planning Board’s Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC). In […]

Climate & Energy, Environment

Metro DC Prepares for Climate Change

Today, COG is releasing our climate change adaptation report for the Region. Spurred by a technical assistance grant from EPA in 2010, COG began meeting with member jurisdictions to discuss adaptation planning strategies. The report serves to not only identify the direct effects of climate change, but also to advance a dialogue for local resiliency […]

Climate & Energy

Solar Power Lighting the Way for Sustainable Energy in the Metro DC Area

Solar energy is growing in metropolitan Washington.  With over 1,600 systems already installed on residential, commercial, and government buildings, the region is on track to meet its goal of encouraging 5,000 new renewable energy systems to be installed by 2016. This target was set by the Climate Energy and Environment Committee (CEEPC) at the Council […]

Climate & Energy, Economy

Leaders Work to Spur Investments in Building Energy Efficiency to Create Jobs & Fight Climate Change

Financing energy retrofits has been a major focus of area leaders on the Council of Governments’ climate and energy committee since retrofit projects create jobs, increase energy efficiency, and fight climate change. Retrofit projects have also been of great interest to former President Bill Clinton, which is why he joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other […]

Climate & Energy, Environment

Partnerships Bring Cleaner, More Efficient Engines to Local Businesses

Diesel engines, especially older ones, generate a lot of pollutants. That black smoke you see pumping out of trucks, buses, and boats produces major negative effects on human health, the environment, the climate, and exacerbate environmental injustice. To ameliorate these effects, Congress passed the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) in 2005. The legislation was reauthorized […]

Climate & Energy

Local, State Innovations Provide Way to Meet Climate Goals

As frustrating as Congress’ unwillingness to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be, additional legislation may not even be necessary to achieve the country’s climate mitigation goals. That was one of the key points stressed during a recent panel discussion with climate experts from the Georgetown Climate Center, Brookings and local elected […]

Climate & Energy

Sustainable DC: A Major Advance in Moving the Region Forward

Laine Cidlowski, AICP, Urban Sustainability Planner, and Tanya Stern, Chief of Staff, DC Office of Planning On February 20, Mayor Vincent C. Gray released what is being lauded as one of the nation’s most ambitious plans to improve quality of life in the Washington Metro region. The Sustainable DC Plan establishes a bold vision to make […]

Climate & Energy

Regional Investment in Energy Efficiency: Good for the Economy and the Environment

Nicole Steele, Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy & Julia Allman, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments It’s long been said that the cleanest, cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use. And consuming less energy doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort or holding back economic growth. On the contrary, when we improve our energy productivity we […]

Environment

Report highlights region’s agriculture and challenges for the future

Known as home to the federal government, major defense contractors, biotech firms, and universities, it may come as a surprise that agriculture also plays a major role in metropolitan Washington’s land use and economy.

About 28% of the region’s land area is dedicated to agriculture and the industry contributes approximately $1 billion to the metropolitan Washington economy every year. Agricultural production is also quite varied, ranging from tomatoes and potatoes to beef and beans.

Despite its size and diversity, however, the region’s agriculture is not meeting local food demands. And with more than a million people expected to move to this already rapidly-growing region in the next few decades, the situation is likely only going to get worse without significant policy changes. That’s the message behind a new Council of Governments report, What Our Region Grows.

The report, still in draft form, highlights the region’s current agricultural production as well as the gaps between current production and what’s needed to meet local demand. We’ll cover the report in more detail once it’s finalized, but the draft version – complete with charts and graphs – makes for interesting reading during the holidays.

Climate & Energy

Regional Air and Climate Group Needs YOU

Are you interested in topics like clean energy, air quality, climate change, and sea level rise? Do you want to get involved in the public policy process?

You could be a great fit for the region’s Air and Climate Public Advisory Committee. ACPAC advises on air quality, climate, and energy issues to policy committees of the Council of Governments. This means ACPAC members get to learn about and share input on a variety of regional plans, including transportation priorities and electric vehicles. Members also regularly hear presentations from state and local environmental officials and groups like the American Lung Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Georgetown Climate Center.

ACPAC is currently looking for new members with a variety of backgrounds and interests. The group consists of 18 members, 6 each from D.C., Maryland and Virginia. For 2013, there are 4 openings (1 in DC, 1 in MD and 2 in VA). If you are interested in joining ACPAC, please fill out its online form by January 11.

ACPAC meets monthly at the COG offices at 777 North Capitol Street NE in Washington DC, 1.5 blocks from the Union Station Metro Red Line. Underground parking is also available. For more information see the ACPAC description online.

Drive ’til you qualify?, massive loss of agricultural land in the region, and tackling the Legion Bridge problem

Seeing as it’s summer and you’ve hopefully been enjoying some well-earned vacation, we thought we’d share some of our favorite posts featured on The Yardstick over the past couple months in case you missed them:

Drive ‘til you qualify doesn’t hold up logically: Americans spend more than 50% of their income on combined housing and transportation costs. Conventional wisdom used to argue that you could save money by moving further and further away from core areas, but even though housing may become more affordable by distance, transportation expenses quickly pile up and these costs are significantly greater for low- and moderate-income families.

Sixty years ago, Fairfax County’s principal economic output was milk. Today it is the region’s most populated jurisdiction with an economy led by fortune 500 corporations. Between 1987 and 2007, metro Washington’s agricultural land declined by 23%.

This trend – metro Washington losing more than one percent of agricultural land per year – represents a huge shift culturally and economically for the region. Economic growth and development need not be at odds with preservation and environmental protection if better land-use decisions prevail.

Homeless and working: The problem of homelessness among the working poor, especially in a region like ours with very high housing costs, is exacerbated due to a lack of affordable housing. The annual count of the region’s homeless population found that 35% of adults in homeless families are employed, as are 17% of homeless single adults and 14% of homeless unaccompanied youth.

Affordable housing and its connection with homelessness and the working poor is a crucial issue. If jurisdictions put policies in place to vastly increase the amount of affordable housing, we can reduce homelessness in metro Washington. On the other hand, if housing costs are allowed to increase, the rate of people who are working and are still unable to afford housing will correspondingly increase.

Economy, time of year impacts rate of travel, auto emissions: The economic downturn is causing people to take longer to replace their cars. This is leading to an older-than-expected fleet producing greater-than-expected emissions. Also, despite the overall rate of travel remaining essentially unchanged, traffic delays decrease by nearly 20% in metro Washington during the summer months due to a people traveling more at off-peak times.

Taking a bilateral approach to a transportation problem: Traffic congestion knows no jurisdictional boundaries. One of the most obvious examples of this reality comes in the form of the highly-traveled and highly-congested American Legion Bridge, which traverses the Potomac River to connect Fairfax and Montgomery Counties.

At their first-ever joint meeting, officials from the region’s two most populous jurisdictions had a frank and honest discussion about the problems posed by the bridge and potential solutions, especially in light of the soon-to-open HOT lanes in Virginia that are likely to increase bottle-necking at the Legion Bridge.

Actions at Local Military Bases, DoD Buildings Will Make Metro Washington More Sustainable

MWCOG’s regional progress report on climate and energy issues and a recent series of blogs on this site highlight progress being made by area governments in advancing renewable energy projects and implementing policies to promote green buildings and green fleets. What may be less known are recent actions by the region’s largest employer, the federal government, to adopt clean energy policies.

The fact that Uncle Sam’s new goals align closely with those of local and state governments means there is an even greater opportunity to transform metro Washington into a more sustainable, secure, and economically competitive region. But to meet this potential, area leaders and experts agree more collaboration is needed.

To that end, on July 24, MWCOG, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the Maryland Clean Energy Center brought together representatives from the Department of Defense (DoD), armed services, federal, state and local energy offices, private industry leaders and policy experts to discuss existing sustainability activities and new opportunities for federal-regional partnership.

The DoD and military officials and Jonathan Powers, from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, all stressed President Obama’s executive order on sustainability specifically called for greater collaboration with regional officials, particularly for energy security actions with strong economic development potential.

They noted DoD’s goal to deploy three gigawatts of renewable energy – including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal – on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025 – enough to power 750,000 homes. Military facilities are also exploring microgrid technologies to strengthen their energy security and reliability, which is compromised by severe weather, heat waves, and deteriorating transmission lines. DOD is also improving building energy efficiency under President Obama’s goal that the federal government enter into $2 billion in energy performance contracts by 2013.

Participants also discussed advanced energy activities at several local installations that will help metro Washington meet its sustainability goals. For example, Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland is involved in the Army’s Net Zero Initiative. It is one of 17 installation that has pledged to consume only as much energy and water as it produces. To succeed at this initiative, officials at Fort Detrick are focusing on a number of clean energy strategies, including solar power and smart grids.

Michael Aimone, Director of Business Enterprise Integration for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, outlined a systems approach to DoD facility energy and provided perspective on the magnitude of the opportunity in the region. There are nearly 14,000 DoD buildings in Maryland, DC, and Virginia, as well as more than 400,000 acres on installations, a portion of which could be used for renewable energy deployment.

Base operating costs for the three jurisdictions is approximately $1.4 billion. The panel stressed that DoD does not have significant capital funding but has a very large operating budget that can potentially be used to fund new energy projects. DoD, like local governments, must identify and tap a variety of new and existing financing mechanisms to fund deployment of new energy solutions.

At lunch, a representative from the Department of Energy (DoE) Sandia Labs described a cooperative project among stakeholders in Vermont to meet that state’s ambitious goals of 90% renewable energy by 2050. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was instrumental in providing the seed money from DoE for Vermont. An interesting aspect of the approach used in Vermont was to establish a board of directors made up of public and private stakeholders to coordinate the planning and implementation of the new energy program.

At the last session, moderator Tom Peterson, from the Center for Climate Strategies, led a discussion of what processes and metrics the region could use to better coordinate federal and regional clean energy initiatives. With the multitude of local, state, and federal sustainability activities in motion or soon to be underway, MWCOG Vice Chair Karen Young from the City of Frederick urged for an ongoing dialogue among all the key players to focus on new, multi party actions. For the region to better leverage its clean energy investments and, in the process, create good jobs for area residents, Young stressed the meeting could not be a “one-time event.”

Prevent Sprawl and Enjoy Local Food: Save Agricultural Land in Metro Washington

Between 1987 and 2007 metro Washington’s agricultural land declined by 23%, according to the recently released Region Forward Baseline Progress Report.

Currently, the entire region has less agricultural land than neighboring Fauquier County alone. This trend in which metro Washington is losing more than one percent of agricultural land per year represents a huge shift culturally and economically for the region.

At the current rate, metro Washington will drop below the Region Forward target of preserving at least 450,000 acres of agriculture land very soon. Now is the time to observe the positive and negative impacts of our development choices and determine what we want our future to look like. As we noted last week, economic growth and development need not be at odds with preservation and environmental protection if better land-use decisions prevail.

Metro Washington is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Sixty years ago, Fairfax County’s principal economic output was milk. Today it is the region’s most populated jurisdiction with an economy led by several fortune 500 corporations. This type of shift has occurred throughout the region and it has brought increased prosperity and resilience to our economy. However, this shift has also resulted in a rapid and fundamental change to our environment that will continue to impact all residents into the foreseeable future.

For several decades, land use and transportation policy encouraged expansive low to moderate intensity development characterized by single family homes and auto oriented commercial facilities. However, the dominance of this highway-centric development model is quickly fading. Over the past two decades the region has chosen to plan for fewer and fewer new highways, opting instead to pursue transit-oriented development and promote other alternatives to automobile travel, such as walking and biking.

This development pattern is more compact, devouring less land to house the same number of people and companies and has led to creation of vibrant new centers of activity throughout the region as well as the revitalization of areas that had been in decline.

Communities throughout the region have successfully implemented different approaches to development. Some jurisdictions have opted to concentrate growth in key areas; others have decided to preserve their environmental resources first. As we continue to grow, we are quickly reaching a critical point at which we must decide as a region 1) whether we want to preserve local agriculture? And 2) what tradeoffs are we willing to accept to preserve open space?

Every year more acres of agricultural land are developed for commercial purposes. If we wait too long to decide what we want from these resources they will be gone.

Economic downturn has mixed impact on auto-related emissions

Despite forecasts of slower-than-expected growth in population, employment, and driving in the Washington region through 2020 because of the economic downturn of the last few years, vehicle-related emissions of harmful pollutants could still be as much as 16% higher in 2020 than previously expected because economic conditions have also slowed the rate at which consumers are replacing older vehicles with newer models that have significantly lower emissions.

The detailed findings come as part of an annual analysis conducted by the Transportation Planning Board to estimate future emissions in the region based on forecasts of population and employment growth and existing plans in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to expand the region’s roadway network and transit system.

This year’s analysis relied on the latest update to the region’s long-range transportation plan and population and employment forecasts that were recently revised by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to reflect the results of the 2010 Census and other trends caused by the economic slowdown. Recent traffic counts were also used to get a better idea of existing travel patterns in the wake of the slowdown.

Forecasts of the total number of households in the region by 2020 were revised downward by 0.5% — or about 14,100 households — while employment was revised downward by 0.4% — approximately 17,400 jobs. Construction of new highway capacity was reduced by nearly 200 lane-miles, mostly just outside the region in Howard and Anne Arundel Counties. Together, these changes are expected to result in 0.8% fewer vehicle trips and 2.3% fewer vehicle miles of travel in the Washington region in 2020 compared to forecasts made during last year’s analysis.

Under economic conditions like those prior to the national downturn, such decreases in driving overall would have been expected to result in emissions in 2020 being about 1% lower than previously forecast. But the results of a 2011 “vehicle census” by the TPB show that, since 2005, the average age of all the cars and trucks on the region’s roads has increased by 1.21 years. Using this more recent snapshot of the region’s vehicle fleet, which shows older vehicles with higher emissions staying on the road longer, the TPB’s analysis found that emissions of harmful pollutants would be higher in 2020 than previously thought.

In the latest analysis, emissions of fine particle pollution (PM2.5) — which causes respiratory ailments — would go up 1.5%, emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) would go up 12.8%, and emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) — another ingredient in the formation of smog — would increase by 15.7%. The increases are so sizeable because newer vehicles in the last few years have been equipped with more sophisticated emissions controls that make them much cleaner to operate than the older vehicles they are replacing.

These results demonstrate the important effect that consumers’ vehicle-purchasing behavior can have on air quality, and that the effects of vehicle-purchasing can significantly outweigh the effects of reduced driving. Although forecasts of higher-than-expected emissions in 2020 are not a major cause for concern with regard to public health, they do matter to those responsible for setting future emissions reductions targets for the region. Under federal regulations, the region must set and demonstrate progress toward achieving such targets in order to continue receiving federal funding for transportation.

The economic downturn of the last few years has resulted in forecasts of population, employment, and driving that are lower than previously thought. More important from the perspective of vehicle-related emissions, however, is the simultaneous slowdown in the rate at which individuals, families, and businesses are replacing older vehicles with newer models that have significantly lower emissions. By 2020, this trend could push emissions of some harmful vehicle-related pollutants up by nearly 16% compared to forecasts made just last year. Such information will be of use to those trying to determine how best to ensure that the region’s air quality continues to improve over time.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.