Reston, VA

Dominion Energy plans to have new electric vehicle charging stations up and running in Northern Virginia this year, joining five other utility providers to create an interstate charging network that could extend from D.C. to western Texas.

The provider announced last week that it is partnering with American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Entergy Corporation, Southern Co., and the Tennessee Valley Authority to form the Electric Highway Coalition, which will provide electric vehicle charging infrastructure along major highways within their service territories.

About 18 million EVs could be on U.S. roads by 2030, according to estimates from The Edison Electric Institute. But while charging options becoming more plentiful to support everyday travel, anxiety remains among drivers about how to tackle long-distance road trips.

Dominion wants to enable electric long-distance travel for customers and its company fleet on major interstates and other well-traveled roadways, spokesperson Peggy Fox said. The charging stations will be capable of getting drivers back on the road in approximately 20-30 minutes.

“For example, in Virginia, we want to enable EV drivers to travel from the mountains to the beach or from the nation’s capital to the Virginia coast,” she said.

New stations in Fairfax County could be along I-66, I-95 and 495, and other well-traveled roads, she added. The stations will be about 100 miles apart or less, but exact locations and a concrete timeline have yet to be established.

“The partner utilities have started discussions to collaborate on site locations, site partners, design, and equipment,” Fox said.

Dominion will be coordinating with the other utility partners to provide sufficient charging capacity while using existing infrastructure and avoiding duplication, she said. The utility company plans to have a minimum of two charging stations at each location.

It has also been working with the state and locally with Fairfax County government to electrify transit. It rolled outelectric school buses in January, and in October, it debuted a self-driving shuttle that runs between Dunn Loring Metro Station and Mosaic District.

Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), who represents part of Tysons and has supported many environment-focused bills, said he welcomes Dominion’s new partnership as a “good news story,” but the General Assembly approved a number of bills in its recent legislative session to indicate the state government is serious about electrifying transit, too.

“No company is going to go do things on their own, without knowing what the state will do as a partner,” Keam said. “Us providing that level of priority allows Dominion to say, ‘OK, here’s what we will do.'”

Virginia will join a dozen other states that have adopted clean car standards requiring low- and zero-emission vehicles to be available, he said. It will also be providing a “small but still meaningful rebate” for those looking to buy one.

Keam says Dominion’s plans could work in tandem with approved bills supporting the expansion of charging infrastructure. Legislators also requested a statewide study of transit equity, and Keam successfully introduced a bill to establish a state electric school bus fund.

“We’ve really put Virginia on the map,” he said.

Still, Keam added that Dominion’s role in electrifying transit should be an ongoing discussion. It owns substantial infrastructure and supplies much of Virginia’s power, so the utility needs to be included, but state lawmakers have been unable to agree on a regulatory approach.

“We have to look at all of this with clear eyes,” he said.

Image via Dominion Energy

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What would it take for you to reduce your carbon footprint?

That’s the question Fairfax County is posing as it enters the public engagement portion of its Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) initiative, which will establish goals and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impact of climate change.

Launched in early 2020, the CECAP process is being led by the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) with support from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Fairfax-based consulting firm ICF.

The county previously sought public input on the plan in August and September, when a CECAP Task Force started developing draft mitigation goals.

In addition to holding two public meetings last week, one focused on energy and another on transportation, waste, and development, the county is looking to gather more public feedback through a trio of short surveys.

“We want to make sure that we expand our reach and get information from as many county residents and business owners as we can,” ICF Director of Human Capital Michelle Heelan said when facilitating the energy community meeting on Feb. 23.

One survey gauges respondents’ interest in undertaking projects to make their home more energy-efficient and sustainable, like installing solar panels and replacing light bulbs and HVAC systems. Another deals with transportation and development, asking questions about public transit, electric vehicles, and mixed-use development.

There is also a more open-ended survey for people to share general comments on the CECAP initiative.

“In Fairfax County, energy use and transportation are the two greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” the OEEC says. “The CECAP will address both issue areas, and with your input, we can ensure that the final plan reflects the needs of everyone in our community as we work to reduce our collective carbon footprint.”

The surveys are currently available in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. They will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Mar. 14.

ICF will draft a final report with input from a CECAP Working Group and the community for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to adopt this summer, according to OEEC Senior Community Specialist Maya Dhavale.

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Trash collectors in Fairfax County will not pick up leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste stored in plastic bags when the collection season begins on Monday (Mar. 1).

After holding a public hearing, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 on Tuesday (Feb. 23) to officially prohibit the use of plastic bags for yard waste by amending its Solid Waste Management Ordinance, a move that supporters say is necessary to reduce pollution and make the county more environmentally friendly.

“To reverse climate catastrophe, each of us must make many small and large steps,” Faith Alliance for Climate SolutionsBoard Chair Eric Goplerud said when testifying at the public hearing. “Banning plastic bags to contain yard waste is a step that the Board of Supervisors can take to lead our community to care for our common home, the Earth.”

Fairfax County began transitioning away from using plastic bags for yard waste last year, encouraging residents to use compostable paper bags or reusable containers instead.

In an update to the board’s environmental committee on Oct. 27, county staff reported that about 51% of homes surveyed during the 2020 yard waste season were still utilizing plastic bags, but Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environmental Compliance Eric Forbes says he is “hopeful and confident” that the bags can be eliminated after the past year of education and outreach.

Now that the ban has been approved, the county’s solid waste management program is encouraging private trash and recycling collection companies to notify their customers that waste in plastic bags will no longer be collected.

“We do not anticipate a hundred percent success rate in the beginning, but we will continue our outreach and collaboration with industry to help our community to reach compliance with the new requirements,” Forbes said.

Forbes acknowledged that compostable paper bags are slightly more expensive to buy than plastic bags. County staff found that paper bags designed to carry yard waste cost about 50 cents per bag, whereas plastic bags cost around 30 cents.

Yet, the overall cost of utilizing plastic may be greater, since the material is difficult to extract and can damage equipment during the composting process, pushing up costs for collectors and, by extension, customers, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says.

While paper bags are preferable to plastic, Forbes noted that residents can avoid the costs of yard waste removal altogether by managing it on-site with backyard composting or allowing grass clippings to decompose on their lawn, a practice known as grasscycling.

McKay says he got 75 emails on the proposed ban, with an even split between supporters and opponents, but he believes it is time for Fairfax County to join the rest of the D.C. region, where some jurisdictions have required paper bags or reusable containers for more than a decade.

“We ultimately just have to decide whether we think this is a good idea or not,” McKay said. “…I think clearly, based on the testimony that we’ve heard today, based on where everyone around the region is, and frankly, based on where the science is, this is something that we must do now to help with our environmental challenges.”

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has endorsed county efforts to expand food scrap drop-offs to more farmers markets and evaluate a possible curbside collection pilot program.

Such collection opportunities would mark a step toward the county’s ambitious goal of making schools and government operations zero waste by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2040.

The board asked the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services last summer to research and report options for bringing an internal compost pilot — an employee-led food scrap recycling program called the Fairfax Employees for Environmental Excellence — to the public.

Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environment Compliance Eric Forbes told the board during its environmental committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday) that DPWES has “a number of pilot programs” and the county “has been discussing working toward organics diversion for quite a while.”

Food scraps, which can be composted and converted into nutrient-dense soil, make up 30% of what gets thrown away in the county. Diverting this potential resource represents “the next rung on the ladder for our community,” Forbes said.

The county unveiled composting drop-off sites at the I-95 Landfill Complex & I-66 Transfer Station in November. He said these sites have rescued about 4,500 pounds of food scraps so far. People can also bring food scraps to farmers’ markets or hire one of four vendors in the county that offer curbside organics collection services.

In the near future, the county is looking to expand collection opportunities at farmers’ markets run by the Fairfax County Park Authority, FRESHFARM, and Central Farm Markets. These three organizations have expressed interested in working with the county, according to Forbes.

The county is also mulling over a curbside collection program, which would let residents mingle food scraps and yard waste in their green bins. Through an inter-county agreement, the food scraps could be taken to a facility in Prince William County.

“I like the idea of regional players taking the responsibility,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “I appreciate Prince William stepping up to build their own food scrap recycling.”

Still, Braddock District Supervisor James R. Walkinshaw told Forbes the county should “aggressively” promote backyard composting. He said doing so is especially important if the county finds that a curbside collection program would increase emissions.

“I want to make sure we do that analysis before moving forward with expansion of curbside,” he said.

Likewise, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay said he appreciates the pilot programs and partnerships, but there needs to be more communication with the “average Joe homeowner.”

Forbes said his staff is looking to purchase electric vehicles for trash collection. As for educational opportunities, he said the county publishes lots of educational material and presents ways to eliminate food waste at homeowners’ association meetings.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik encouraged the county to look for year-round and seasonal farmers’ markets near apartment buildings.

“I want to make sure we are looking at equity through this issue,” she said. “Families will be happy to participate as long as we look at some of the barriers that exist.”

Photo via Seth Cottle on Unsplash

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors indicated interest in a pilot program for electric-powered buses during its transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

During the meeting, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny delivered an presentation that explained the “ins and outs” of electric vehicles and and included a proposal for moving forward with a pilot plan.

The next step would be to return to the supervisors with a more in-depth financial plan that includes details such as when and where this would take place, and how long the demonstration would last, which could be in the early part of 2021, Biesiadny says.

“This is exciting,”said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay. “Clearly we need to jump into this area and we need to do it quickly.”

Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchick supported a pilot because it would help ensure the county implements these changes correctly.

“This is the future,” she said. “We need to stop going backward. I’m hopeful to see a plan not just to see a pilot but do a demonstration project, which in my mind, means ‘how can we move forward?'”

A pilot with four buses could cost between $3.8 million and $4.2 million, a gross cost that does not take into account sources of funding. Some money has been set aside through a bus replacement program, and there are grants available, Biesiadny said.

FCDOT has in-house and external expertise from Fairfax’s “ongoing partnership with Dominion Energy” and the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit team to draw from, said Tom Reynolds, the FCDOT Section Chief of Transit Services Division.

The pilot would help the department learn about the buses’ range and charging, how they perform during different seasons of the year and on various local and express routes, and what staff training needs to be done, Reynolds said.

“The sooner we do the pilot, the sooner we see the results of it, the sooner we can start to make longer-term decisions about some of the capital costs that would be necessary if we were to expand this,” McKay said.

When the county talks about costs, Palchik — who said she developed childhood asthma living in the area — and Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw emphasized the costs of treating asthma and the health impacts of poor air quality.

“In Virginia, we spend $87 million a year because of asthma hospitalization,” Walkinshaw said. “Fairfax County is lower, but Route One is higher. Annandale is higher. Other parts of the county are higher. It would be a small thing, but as we look at this pilot, we might want to look at locating it in parts of the county that have been hit harder by asthma.”

Fairfax County’s first effort to introduce electric vehicles into public transit came this year with the autonomous Relay shuttle now operating in the Mosaic District. That demonstration project is a partnership with Dominion Energy, Biesiadny said.

Photo via Electrify America

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Fairfax County should attempt to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and eliminate all waste from county government and school operations by 2030, the Fairfax County Joint Environmental Task Force (JET) recommends in a new report.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 20 and the Fairfax County School Board on Oct. 22, the report urges both boards, along with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Regional Housing Authority, to commit to producing net-zero carbon emissions from their energy usage by 2040.

To achieve this goal, the task force suggests that Fairfax County aim to cut its carbon emissions in half from 2019 levels by 2030, while transitioning to renewable sources to generate 25% of its energy by 2030 and 50% by 2040.

The task force also recommends reducing the total amount of energy used by all county facilities by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2040, and requiring all new county buildings and major renovation projects meet net-zero energy standards starting in 2021.

Other recommendations proposed by the JET include:

  • Fairfax government and schools should aim to produce zero solid waste by 2030
  • The Fairfax Connector bus fleet should transition to electricity or other non-carbon-emitting fuel sources by 2030, with the Fairfax County Public Schools fleet and non-bus vehicles following suit by 2035
  • The county government and schools should develop resources to educate students and adults about job options in “green” industries, including renewable energy, green building, resource and wildlife management, and stormwater management

“The JET’s ambitious goals and recommendations send a powerful message that our county and school system are committed to doing what it takes to protect our environment and address the threat of climate change,” Providence District School Board member Karl Frisch said.

Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions executive director Meg Mall, one of nine community members on the JET, says her environmental advocacy group is “pleased that strong goals have been incorporated” into the task force’s report and hopes to see continued collaboration not just between different county agencies, but also between Fairfax County and the general public.

“FACS has been a strong advocate for the adoption of aggressive goals in the county’s climate mitigation and adaptation work,” Mall said. “…The county must lead by example within its own operations while concurrently working toward community-wide goals.”

The Board of Supervisors and school board formed the JET in April 2019 to coordinate county government and schools efforts to address climate change, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability issues.

While the threat of climate change has loomed for decades, its urgency became newly apparent when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in 2018 that found the world must achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and potentially avoid the most drastic impacts of climate change.

In addition to creating the JET, Fairfax County signaled that it intends to prioritize climate issues by establishing the new Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination in July 2019 and awarding contracts to solar providers in December to install solar panels at more than 100 publicly owned facilities.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the JET recommendations and get updates on the solar power purchase agreement initiative, the development of a Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), and the county’s yard waste collection bag policy during its environmental committee meeting today at 11 a.m.

Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran

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A report by a subcommittee of the county’s Joint Environmental Task Force is calling on the county to achieve carbon-neutral status by 2050.

The draft report, which will be discussed at a task force meeting today, offers recommendations on goals for adoption by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board.

Members of the task force’s energy subcommittee met several times between September 2019 and August of this year to formulate the report.

In order to achieve carbon-neutral status, the report recommends reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and a net-zero energy commitment for all new county buildings and major renovation projects.

Here’s more from the report on the next steps:

1. Carbon emissions: Achieve 50% emissions reductions by 2030, as compared to the 2019 baseline.

2. Clean renewable energy: Produce 25% of the County energy use from in-County renewable energy generation by 2030, and 50% by 2040, using 2019 energy use as the baseline.

3. Building Energy Performance Standards for existing buildings: Decrease total energy usage from all County facilities by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2040, as compared to the 2019 baseline.

4. Net Zero Energy Commitment: All new County buildings and major renovation projects beginning planning and design in 2021 and after must achieve ‘Net-Zero Energy’ (NZE) performance as defined below, unless County staff advises the Board prior to the 30% design phase why a project cannot meet the NZE standard.

The report urges the county to coordinate with other organization in order to inventory all potential solar sites, options for geothermal installations, and the launch of a communications campaign about energy and emissions.

The county is currently in the midst of developing its first Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan.

Photo via Unsplash

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Work on the county’s new Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) is currently underway.

Now, Fairfax County officials are seeking the public’s feedback on the plan through a series of virtual public meetings.

The three meetings will aim to facilitate conversations on the count’s climate change management goals.

The CECAP Task Force will incorporate the public’s feedback into their final draft of the policy. The task force is composed of stakeholders from associations, businesses, and other organizations, in an effort to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions rate.

Here’s more from the county on the plan:

The Fairfax County Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) development process is administered by the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination with support from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Fairfax County-based management consulting firm ICF. The plan, which will be the first of its kind for the county, will include a greenhouse gas inventory as well as targets for greenhouse gas reduction in the coming years.

The CECAP will also include actions and strategies to help mitigate climate change and to reduce the impact of climate-related events on county residents and businesses. At the conclusion of the development process, a final plan will be presented to the Board of Supervisors for adoption. 

The schedule for the meetings is below:

Log-in and registration information is available in the links above.

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Solar energy panels will be coming to dozens of Fairfax County public schools and facilities following the launch of a large-scale renewable energy initiative this week.

In a Tuesday release, the county has unveiled multiple solar power purchasing agreements with service providers, an agreement that allows the government to purchase solar-generated electricity from companies that install, maintain and operate solar power generation systems on county property.

County officials expect the new initiative could result in more than $60 million in electricity cost avoidance over the terms of the contracts. They expect the contracts to generate around 1.7 million megawatt-hours of clean renewable energy — equivalent to electricity used by more than 213,000 homes annually.

In a statement, Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill said the initiative was “a major step toward a more sustainable energy future.”

Fairfax County is striving to promote and encourage the use of renewable energy as we reduce our carbon footprint. We are committed to making choices around energy resources that benefit the residents of Fairfax County now and in the future,” Hill wrote.

Here’s more from the Fairfax County Public School officials:

“The notification of the award is another successful point in our journey to move FCPS toward increased adoption of renewable energy sources,” according to FCPS School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders. “Our ongoing sustainability efforts are worthy of highlighting. FCPS has achieved an annual reduction of 14.5 percent in total energy use division-wide since 2014, a cost savings of more than $31 million. Our move toward solar reinforces the School Board’s commitment to our environmental stewardship responsibilities.  Pursuant to School Board policy, FCPS will continue to take bold, innovative and sustained actions to help our country achieve climate stabilization.  There are still many issues to navigate as we move forward with solar energy efforts that will require cooperation at all levels of government to ensure success.”

 “We’re excited to be partnering with the County in a movement that’s good for our students, families and our environment, “said Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand.  “Lower energy costs through solar power purchase agreements will enable FCPS to save millions of dollars while freeing up additional funds for classroom investments.  We look forward to working with the County to expand this initiative to as many FCPS schools and facilities as possible.  Our solar investment will also become an amazing learning lab for our students to reinforce the value and sustainability of solar energy.”

The school system was one of the first regional school districts in the country to install equipment to capture solar energy. Terraset Elementary School used solar heat collector tubes to capture energy from the sun when it opened in 1977.

The following schools in the area are being considered for solar modifications:

  • Coates Elementary School
  • Hunters Woods Elementary School
  • Lake Anne Elementary School
  • South Lakes High School
  • Sunrise Valley Elementary School
  • Terraset Elementary School

Photo via Unplash

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

For the second week in a row my column opens with a reference to sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who spoke to the United Nations Climate Action Summit last week after having sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat. Her message was hard hitting. As she had said to a Congressional committee, it was not necessary that she speak for a long period of time for the scientists had already spoken in the numerous reports on climate change that had been written. As a leader who had inspired weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament resulting in a growing movement of youth climate activists holding their own protests in more than 100 cities worldwide her message was clear to the world leaders: “We will be watching you…How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight!”

Gun violence is an issue about which young people have become increasingly concerned as well. A student who was at the high school in Parkland, Florida, when there was the mass shooting there has been quoted in the Washington Post as saying that “You see these shootings on TV every day and very little happening around it. It’s painful to watch. And I think it’s been really hard for me and many other students and people that we work with to find hope in this time.” Once again, the young people are watching.

Students from the high school in Parkland have formed an organization called March for Our Lives whose very name indicates the seriousness with which they are approaching the issue of gun violence. They have more than 100 chapters nationwide. Their proposed plan to combat gun violence, “A Peace Plan for a Safer America,” goes well beyond the limited measures being debated in the adult world. Their plan creates a national licensing program with a gun registry, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a waiting period for gun purchases, and a mandatory buy-back of assault weapons. Their program may seem extreme to many, but it deserves careful attention for it is written by young people who have the experience of having survived a mass shooting where their friends around them did not survive. Once again, we can expect that these young people and others will be watching what we adults do about this issue if indeed anything is done.

Many years ago I worked in a manufacturing plant in the Shenandoah Valley with a man who as a devout member of the Brethren Church. He would regularly remind me that we should live our lives as though someone is watching us for we could be sure that someone is watching us and observing our ethics, honesty and sincerity. We may be able to talk a good game, but those observing our behavior can learn more about us than we may care for them to know. In the political world these days there is way too much talk and too little action on critical life and death issues. Young people are watching and are calling us out!

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week. Thunberg has a strong reputation as a climate activist having staged weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament resulting in a growing movement of youth climate activists holding their own protests in more than 100 cities worldwide. Having a young person speak about climate issues is appropriate considering the higher-level interest shown by young people over adults on climate-related concerns. After all, it is their future that is being discussed.

Results of a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week found that young people include climate change among the issues they think are most important facing the country. Eighty-six percent of youth think that human activity is causing climate change. Of considerable concern is the finding that 57 percent of the youth polled said that climate change makes them feel afraid. It is their future, and they feel afraid of the future we adults are leaving them. The good news is that 54 percent feel motivated to do something about it.

But young people fortunately are not alone in being fearful of climate change and motivated to do something about it. The 2019 Virginia Climate Crisis Forum held at the First Baptist Church in Vienna attracted nearly 300 activists to focus on climate justice. The forum was moderated by William Barber, III, son of the famous Rev. Dr. William Barber II, and Karenna Gore, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore. Reflecting the broad interest in the issue, panelists included representatives of the Green New Deal of Virginia, People Demanding Action, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions and others. Emphasis of the discussion was on working together to repair a damaged climate while ensuring that everyone most impacted–including low-income people, people of color, the vulnerable, and those on the front lines–are part of every solution and not disproportionally impacted.

Coming out of the Virginia Clean Energy Summit also held last week was an announcement by Governor Ralph Northam that the goal in Virginia is that by 2030, 30 percent of Virginia’s electric system will be powered by renewable energy resources and by 2050, 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity will be produced from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear. In his Executive Order establishing the goals, the Governor expressed the concerns being heard from the young people and in the various meetings on the issue: “Climate change is an urgent and pressing challenge for Virginia. As recent storms, heat waves, and flooding events have reminded us, climate disruption poses potentially devastating risk to Virginia.” Reflecting the concern about economic justice, the Governor’s Executive Order stated that “These clean energy resources shall be deployed to maximize the economic and environmental benefit to under-served communities while mitigating any impact to those communities.”

Young people remind us that there are ample reasons to be afraid of an unknown future with climate change. The best response to that fear is to intensify the discussions such as have been going on while taking positive steps like that by the Governor to reverse impact on climate change.

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A group of mothers from Fairfax County are banding together to push county schools to use electric school buses.

The group, Mothers out Front Fairfax, recently formed a local chapter of the national climate advocacy group Mothers Out Front.

“Our county has a chance to be on the cutting edge of technology and to be a national leader in providing our kids with healthy air and clean energy future,” said Kathy Keller, a nurse at Inova Fairfax hospital, Mothers out Front Fairfax member and a mom with two children in county schools.

The group formally launched its campaign at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna on Tuesday (August 20). Fairfax County Public School’s school board member Pat Hynes spoke at the event.

Here’s more from the group about their initiative:

Electric school buses, with no tailpipe emissions, eliminate children’s exposure to dangerous diesel exhaust during their ride to school. They have lower global warming emissions than diesel, even when the source of electricity is taken into account. They have no engine, muffler, or alternator that requires tune-ups, meaning a lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses of up to $170,000. They have a lower center of gravity than diesel buses and are therefore less likely to roll over. They are safer for our kids and cleaner for our environment.

The health and environmental benefits of electric school buses are well documented. Studies show that that exposure levels to harmful chemicals can be between 4 and 10 times higher on school buses than in the surrounding environment.

The county has the second largest public school fleet of buses in the country, behind only New York City.

Mothers Out Front is a national advocacy group. Members are mothers who aim to “ensure a livable climate for all children,” according to the organization’s website.

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A new statewide progressive advocacy group for climate change is set to launch at Great Falls Library on Saturday (August 17).

The group, Earth Rise Indivisible, seeks to seeks to mobilize the public to address what it calls a “climate crisis.”

The science on the climate crisis is precise; climate change is happening, and can likely be attributed to human activities.  We are impacting every facet of life on our planet destructively.  However, we can take action to save our big blue marble.  Immediate action can stop or reduce potential adverse outcomes,” according to a press release issued by the organization today (Thursday).

The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and features a vegetarian bag lunch, a celebratory happy hour at Old Brogue (760 Walker Road), skill-building workshops, yoga breaks and presentations by Climate Reality and Green New Deal VA.

Registration is open online.

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Advocates on behalf of cleaning up our environment got further strong evidence of the need for “bold, swift action on behalf of our environment,” a phrase used by many who have recently written letters to me. A 1,500-page report based on thousands of scientific studies by hundreds of international experts has concluded that “humans are transforming earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plants and animal species are now at risk of extinction posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival.”

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that produced the report for the United Nations found that “piecemeal efforts to protect individual species or to set up wildlife refuges will no longer be sufficient.” Instead, they call for ‘transformative changes’ that include curbing wasteful consumption, slimming down agricultures and cracking down on illegal logging and fishing.” The writers of the assessment are hoping that policy makers will see the importance of nature to the health of people and local economies and will able “to strike a more careful balance between economic development and conservation.”

As Virginia advocates point out in their plea, “it will now be up to the 2020 Virginia General Assembly to stand up for our health and the environment, for clean energy, and to protect Virginians from the ravages of climate change of which we are already feeling the effects.” The most recent session of the General Assembly demonstrated that the legislators in charge can make all the difference. In a strictly partisan vote, the Republican majority had language inserted in the budget that restricts the Commonwealth’s ability to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that will be a critical avenue for reducing carbon emissions in the state and addressing the negative effects of climate change on the health and safety of the people.

While the language by the Republicans was not subject to a line item veto by the Governor because of past court decisions, the Governor nonetheless has pledged to move forward with new regulations much the same as would be part of RGGI to make significant reductions in carbon pollution from fossil fuel fired power plants. The Governor has made it clear that the budget he prepares next year will delete the Republican language. With the probable change of control of the House of Delegates and State Senate this year the language will not be carried forward in future budgets.

It is unfortunate that the actions of the Governor on this and other items in the budget have been sharply criticized because of a misunderstanding on the part of many that the Governor’s line item veto power is not unlimited — supported by court decisions but still controversial. The good news is that the Governor has indicated in many other actions that he recognizes the need for bold and swift action to protect our environment. I look forward to working with him in greatly enhancing Virginia’s protection of the environment.

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum, who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

There was both shock and amazement on the part of many Restonians to hear last Friday evening that our community was under a tornado warning by the National Weather Service (NWS). These warnings occur all the time especially in the Midwest and earlier that day across the deep South. For us the weather is relatively mild, although the winds do seem to blow harder these days, and the rains this spring seem to have brought a lot of local flooding. The amount of snow varies from winter to winter.

About 8:30 p.m. on Friday the National Weather Service found that an approaching squall line ahead of a larger storm’s cold front distorted into an S shape across Northern Virginia. Gusts along the bow were significant until the bow broke up into a rotating storm. Doppler radar revealed a counterclockwise circulation known as a mesocyclone over Reston that developed into a cyclone.

Technically the National Weather Service recorded that on Friday, April 19, there was a tornado event in Reston beginning at 8:55 p.m. estimated time with estimated maximum wind speed of 70 mph, with a maximum path width of 100 yards and a path length of 4 miles. The NWS uses the Fujita Scale to classify tornadoes into one of six categories–EF0 (weak) to EF5 (violent). The tornado in our community was rated at the lowest ranking, EF0.

For professional weather people who deal with bad weather all the time, the tornado in our community that lasted an estimated five minutes may have seemed weak. But for those who sought refuge in their basements and heard the wind whipping around their homes and saw the trees swaying in their yards the storm was anything but weak. Fortunately, no one was killed or reported hurt. Lots of trees and branches were downed and several cars were damaged with one townhouse being severely damaged. Everyone is left to wonder if we will be as lucky if the flukes of weather send their wrath on us again.

Weather refers to what happens in the atmosphere around us with rain, snow, wind, and thunderstorms as examples. For many of us weather conditions seem to have become more severe. Only scientific recordings of weather events over a long period of time will provide evidence needed to confirm or deny our hunches. All the weather events of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns averaged over seasons, years or longer creates our climate. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that climate is changing and that human behavior especially in releasing more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere is a leading cause. Completing the circle of what is happening in our world is that climate change is bringing about more extreme weather events.

While extreme weather, climate change and global warming may be controversial topics to some, many of us are deeply concerned. This week’s celebration of Earth Day was a global experience. Our local weather event while relatively mild reminds us that we need to be serious about the subject and serious about our response to it.

File photo

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