Regional Panel Approves Plan To Reduce Greenhouse Gases

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 13, 2008

With 1.6 million new residents and nearly as many new jobs projected for the Washington region in the next two decades, local officials are struggling to cope with already polluted air and water and still absorb expected growth.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a consortium of local officials from the District, Maryland and Virginia, outlined an ambitious blueprint for doing just that. Failing to act, the organization's board said, could have "potentially catastrophic consequences" for the region's health and economic well-being. The report was endorsed 24 to 1 by COG's board.

"Turn off the lights, turn down the heat, take the bus," said Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At large), who headed the panel that examined ways to reduce the region's carbon footprint.

The report proposes that governments, businesses and residents in the region cut greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent below forecast levels by 2012, 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The goals are among the most ambitious ever set by local governments, said Stuart Freudberg, COG's environment chief.

The report also encourages local governments to jointly purchase energy and to set up a regionwide education program to promote driving less, recycling more and using less water.

Floreen acknowledged that COG has limited power in the region to compel participation in its plans.

"Let's agree it is a goal. We don't have the power to regulate per se but actually Montgomery and Fairfax have already basically signed on to this," Floreen said. "The question of implementation is significant and needs to be worked on."

The Washington region is experiencing the effects of climate change, with rising sea levels and a warmer Chesapeake Bay, the report says. "Changes in the climate will have significant effects on the region's natural and built environments, all sectors of its economy, and its residents and families, communities, and workplaces," it says.

Some of the proposals could save money, such as improving the energy efficiency of buildings, appliances, vehicles and transit systems. Others, such as buying wind, solar and nuclear power, would be more expensive, the report says.

Loudoun County Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run), a COG board member and the only dissenter yesterday, said she was troubled by elements of the plan.

She questioned whether there is a definite link between greenhouse emissions and increased temperatures. She also said it is unclear what effect one region could have on global warming. "We are talking about another very expensive program," she said. "We are going to push businesses away."

Governments in the District and Fairfax, Howard and Montgomery counties have begun increasing the number of hybrid vehicles in their fleets while stepping up recycling, encouraging reduced energy use and promoting mass transit.

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