County Can Do Even More for Environment

Arlington Sun Gazette
County Can Do Even More for Environment
(Created: Monday, January 8, 2007 6:55 AM EST)

Editor: Upon being elected County Board chairman for 2007, Paul Ferguson unveiled an ambitious, yet practical, initiative to reduce county government carbon emissions 10 percent by 2012.

The plan, known as Fresh AIRE (Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions), seeks to reduce county government emissions by planting trees, purchasing more wind-generated electricity, and installing solar energy in county facilities.

The government also will encourage the public to reduce carbon emissions, by distributing compact fluorescent bulbs and providing free energy audits to 20 households; it also will examine the idea of tax-breaks for owners of hybrid and electric cars.

Fresh AIRE is an initiative filled with common-sense steps to reduce Arlington’s “carbon footprint.” As the Green Party candidate for County Board this past fall, I advocated for several similar measures, including Arlington’s voluntary adherence to Kyoto Protocols emissions-reductions standards and tax incentives for owners of fuel-efficient cars. It is heartening to see the county government moving in this direction.

As laudable as the initiative to reduce governmental emissions is, Arlington needs to take bolder action to reduce overall carbon emissions levels.

Although the county cannot compel its residents to drive energy-friendly cars or build green, it can do a stronger job of incentivizing these behavior patterns.

For example, the county government currently encourages green building practices by granting bonus density to developers who build to LEED-specifications and bumping homeowners to the front of the line for plan reviews when they build through the Green Home Choice Program.

These programs could be enhanced greatly by providing a tax rebate, either for a set number of years or possibly in perpetuity, for green homeowners through a program similar to the homeowner grant program, which provides tax rebates to homeowners of modest means.

To really get a handle on reducing carbon emissions, however, Arlington needs to put some brakes on over-development and the intertwined environmental and transportation problems that it is causing.

Whether or not one agrees that the county’s development of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor constitutes “smart growth,” it is indisputable that the vast increase in population along the corridor has driven up total energy consumption, put more cars on the road, and over-burdened the Orange Line to the point of transportation failure.

With County Board member Jay Fisette predicting that Columbia Pike will look like Clarendon within five years, the trend toward over-development in Arlington seems to be spreading.

It is hard to reconcile the County Board’s encouragement of over-development with its praiseworthy goal of reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption.

While Arlington remains flat-footed in its efforts to control over-development, other Northern Virginian jurisdictions have raced ahead to confront this problem head on, recognizing its inherent environmental and transportation dangers. Recently, both Prince William and Loudoun counties voted to halt major residential rezoning applications in 2007 and Loudoun took the additional step of capping the density of development in the western half of the county.

To make an even bigger dent in reducing carbon emissions, Arlington should build on its positive Fresh AIRE initiative and look to its neighbors for inspiration to control over-development.

Josh Ruebner

Ruebner was the Green Party candidate for County Board in 2006.

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