Most schools in the Washington region will remain closed this fall. So, what's being done to prepare students, teachers and families for continued remote learning?
In an effort to have net-zero emissions by 2035, Takoma Park is considering resolution that would ban all fossil fuels in the city.
The 2020 Climate Emergency Response Act would set emission target goals for local businesses and residents. People may have to trade-in items like heating and cooling systems, lawn care equipment and other household appliances for alternatives that use renewable energy down the line.
Takoma Park residents have both lauded and loathed the proposal. What exactly does this mean for your family? How would the process work? We talk to our panel about the logistics and the significance of the cutting back on fossil fuels.
Produced by Richard Cunningham
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll check in on D.C.'s efforts to keep sewage out of local rivers. But first Montgomery County is aggressively combating climate change. The county plans to reduce emissions by 80 percent in just seven years and by 100 percent in only 25 years. However, Takoma Park has taken these efforts to the next level. The city declared a climate emergency last year to look at steps the city could take to become a pioneer in sustainability throughout the region.
KOJO NNAMDILast month, the City of Takoma Park passed a resolution to become completely independent of fossil fuels by the year 2045. Fossil fuel appliances like leaf blowers and lawn mowers could be phased out with incentive programs. Commercial buildings will have to upgrade to more energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems. But what does this mean for Takoma Park residents? What are the exact parameters for the resolution? And what are the next steps? Joining me in studio is David Blockstein, Local member of the Takoma Park Mobilization Environmental Committee, TPMEC. David Blockstein, thank you for joining us.
DAVID BLOCKSTEINThank you. It's my pleasure.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Gina Mathias, Sustainability Manager of the City of Takoma Park. Gina Mathias, thank you for joining us.
GINA MATHIASThank you. It's great to be here.
NNAMDIAgain, the number to call 800-433-8850. Gina Mathias, can you give us some background on this resolution?
MATHIASYeah. In March 2019, City Council adopted a climate emergency declaration. And when they declared a climate emergency they directed staff to come up with the most aggressive options the city has within its authority to pursue becoming zero by 2035. And over the course of the last year I heard from hundreds of residents asking for a very aggressive climate plan. And that is what led to the proposal of this resolution.
NNAMDIAnd, David Blockstein, what's the goal of this resolution?
BLOCKSTEINThe goal of the resolution is twofold. First is to get our own act together to have Takoma Park meet our commitment to ourselves, to our children, to our future generations and to our neighbors around the world to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions to zero. And secondly it's to be an example to our neighbors in Montgomery County, in Maryland, in the DMV and beyond.
NNAMDIAgain, what do feel about this resolution? Does it go far enough or does it go too far? 800-433-8850. David Blockstein, what role did the Takoma Park Mobilization Environmental Committee play in the drafting of this resolution?
BLOCKSTEINRight. So the Takoma Park Mobilization Environmental Committee is a volunteer effort of residents in Takoma Park and in the surrounding areas and we have both expertise in a lot of areas and also representation within our city. We're not an official group, but we participated in the hearings that the city had. We met with the Sustainability Manager and we've testified a number of times in front of the City Council to have the strongest possible actions that we can to get our own house in order.
NNAMDIWhat kind of other work does your committee do and what is your goal?
BLOCKSTEINWell, our goal is to serve our neighbors and to serve our community. You mentioned in your lead in about Montgomery County's commitment to reduce the county's emissions. And in September we held a forum for county residents, a town hall, to learn about the committee is doing. We're also very involved in lobbying on state legislation such as delegate, District 20, Lorig Charkoudian, has introduced legislation, Community Choice Energy legislation that would allow cities like Takoma Park and communities like Montgomery County to make purchases of renewable energy that would shift the equation so that we could -- we'd have to opt out of clean energy into more expensive dirty energy if we didn't want to have the clean energy option.
NNAMDIGina Mathias, are there other jurisdictions with similar plans? Is there any precedent for this?
MATHIASYeah, cities around the country are working on efforts to become net zero. And I work with my colleagues around the country on different ideas, policies that we can learn from each other and build upon. There are communities like Milwaukee, Oregon that have required home energy audits or a home energy score at the time of a real estate transaction. And that's one of the things that I hope that we can implement in Takoma Park, not just at the time of a real estate transaction, but period. All homes should have a home energy audit that helps reduce energy use, reduce your energy bills and improve indoor air quality.
NNAMDIHere is Jessica in Chevy Chase. Jessica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Chevy Chase, Maryland that is.
JESSICAHi. Thank you so very much for the opportunity to talk to you. I am a mother. I am really quite terrified about climate change. And in fact, I am on my way right now to Annapolis to lobby for a bill that would put a price on fossil fuels sold into the State of Maryland. And this is really an age of something akin to despair for people like me since our federal government has completely abdicated its role. And I'm overjoyed to hear that the community of Takoma Park is doing this. It gives me real hope. And I just want to thank you.
NNAMDIWell, you can respond if you care to.
MATHIASThank you so much. That is wonderful to hear. And it's voices like that coming from our city and other cities that is encouraging this hard work to get going.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jessica. You too can call us 800-433-8850. Have you made changes in your home or sought out a house or apartment that uses renewable energy? 800-433-8850. We got a tweet from Sophia who says, "This is one of the many reasons I feel fortunate that my path in life landed me in this community." Presumably Sophia is a part of the Takoma Park community. David Blockstein, what would moving off of fossil fuels entail for residents of Takoma Park?
BLOCKSTEINWell, Takoma Park's greenhouse gas emissions are a little bit more than half coming from our buildings. And so the resolution is really focused right now primarily on the buildings doing things to improve the efficiency of our homes beginning with each home having our own energy audit. And in fact, my wife and I had that done in 2006. And based on the home energy audits that then there would be a score that would be a baseline for our community. And then there would be requirements for the lowest performing houses and in other types of buildings to then improve their efficiency.
BLOCKSTEINAnd so in our case, like I say, we had the audit done in 2006 in our home. It pointed out where we could increase the efficiency. And so instead of burning money to heat the planet that we were spending our money wisely on insulating our home and have a much comfortable home and lower costs in terms of our energy as a result of that.
NNAMDIBack to the phones. Here is Tina in Takoma Park. Tina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TINAHi. Thanks for having me. I've been really active in the tree community of Takoma Park. And we're really concerned about this resolution and its lack of incorporation for green infrastructure. We had a mass die off of trees this summer representing about three and half percent of our canopy. And there's no accounting for addressing the loss of our tree canopy within the context of this. My concern is that it's so narrowly defined that all of our limited resources are going to go in one direction to the detriment of the environment. So I would invite your guests to consider this question and how they plan to address it.
MATHIASYeah, so the revised resolution does address the tree canopy and it does ask for community led adaptation and mitigation efforts, management for our public space and our tree canopy, a strengthening of the planting efforts. And further, those efforts are being worked on, currently with the revision of the city's tree ordinance and implementation of tree canopy goals. So we are working very hard to address those concerns. And as climate crisis continues and we see more changes to our climate we can expect that there are going to be more impacts to our tree canopy and that is something that the city is very concerned with and will be addressing.
BLOCKSTEINAnd if I could just add to that quickly that your listeners may not know, Kojo, but Takoma Park has a tree ordinance that we have very -- we have goals for our urban forest canopy. We have requirements that I have personally used to prevent a neighbor from cutting down a tree that you have to make restitution. And so trees are really important. We have trees sheltering our home to keep the costs down, but we also need to get to the direct emissions that we making by heating our homes, by driving our vehicles and other means. And so it has to be a two prong strategy. And as Gina said there is a parallel process that the city is engaging in to improve our protection of our trees in the city.
NNAMDIGina Mathias, how would the city enforce the standards from this resolution?
MATHIASWell, each of the priority strategies will have a different enforcement mechanism. And some of those mechanisms would be as simple as voluntary reporting. And other mechanisms might come through different code enforcement options. Generally the city enforces its environmental laws through voluntary compliance, visits from a code enforcement officer before any violations are issued. If we get to the point where violations are issued those funds might be used to go into a sustainability assistance fund that could help low to moderate income homeowners and business owners make necessary improvements to their properties.
NNAMDIWhen you talk about voluntary enforcements, you're talking about neighbors who may observe another neighbor who doesn't met the standard and therefore makes that call?
MATHIASThat might happen. It just depends on which of the priority strategies we're discussing.
NNAMDIOkay. On to the telephones. Here is Mohammed in Alexandria, Virginia. Mohammed, you are on the air. Go ahead, please. Mohammed, can you hear me?
MOHAMMED(unintelligible) Hi, Kojo. Kojo, the (unintelligible) are putting up two megawatt solar system micro grid in Northwest Washington that's going to serve 300 houses in the community there. Now if you were going by that cost (unintelligible) kilowatt to install. There's plenty of money (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIYou're not coming through very clearly, but I do understanding you're talking about a solar micro grid. Is that a part of the planning for Takoma Park, Gina Mathias?
MATHIASWe don't have a solar micro grid planned at this time. But if that is something that becomes feasible in Takoma Park it is something that we would love to pursue. We are a very limited by space. We're just two square miles. So there is not a lot of opportunity other than on roof tops, but we would love to see something like that happen.
BLOCKSTEINOn the other hand, I'm part of Montgomery County's part of the county's climate emergency plan. We have established working groups. And I'm part of the clean working group. And we've calculated -- or the county has calculated that about half of the county is urbanized and that the county can actually meet far more than meet all of its goals for solar energy development by putting solar such as these micro grids in rooftop and on the sides of buildings and over parking lots and things like that within the urban areas. So in Takoma Park there is a lot of potential for development of solar energy as well as protecting our tree canopy.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on Takoma Park's resolution to ditch fossil fuels. You can still join the conversation. You can send us a tweet at Kojo show or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later on we'll check in on D.C.'s efforts to keep sewage out of local rivers. Right now we're talking about the resolution in Takoma Park to end the use of fossil fuels. We're talking with David Blockstein. He's a Local member of the Takoma Park Mobilization Environmental Committee. And Gina Mathias is Sustainability Manager of the City of Takoma Park. What are the phases that this resolution will be carried out in?
MATHIASRight now the City Council is slated to vote on the resolution March 4th. Once a resolution passes, which I hope it will, we will begin a public collaboration process to develop the actual ordinances, policies and implementation plans that will be necessary to carry out the priority strategies laid out in the resolution. Through that public collaboration process we'll develop the timelines. I expect that we will come back to City Council with some of those draft ordinances no later than this fall for City Council to consider. And then work on implementation from there.
NNAMDIHere's Jacqueline in Takoma Park. Jacqueline, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACQUELINEThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I'm a resident of Takoma Park. And one thing that has not, I don't think, been mentioned that this kind of new resolution came about, because of the negative feedback that came roaring back once the first kind of version came out. Currently Takoma Park residents pay to maintain the tree canopy, pay to maintain historic buildings and structures as individual business owners or homeowners, and we also pay the highest taxes I believe in the state.
JACQUELINEAnd for a town of less than I think 20,000 people, if the Council really would like to have an impact on climate change they need to put these financial resources in putting together this resolution to making changes at the state and national level. If Takoma Park did absolutely nothing we would have no difference I believe in the climate change picture.
NNAMDICare to respond to that, Gina Mathias.
BLOCKSTEINMaybe I'll respond.
NNAMDIOr David Blockstein.
BLOCKSTEINSo, Jacqueline, thank you for your question and comments. I mean, the reality is that business as usual is over. Business as usual means runaway climate change, means eight degrees Fahrenheit increase in the global average temperature by 2100. There is no cost free option. So the question is do we pay now or do we pay later and how do we pay? Do we pay by doing some of the common sense things that are in this resolution such as tightening up the efficiency of our homes or do we pay by heating the air and by increasing the health costs?
BLOCKSTEINIn Takoma Park we have a lot of Ethiopians. Ethiopia as a country contributes almost nothing to the global greenhouse gas emissions, but it's 85 percent agricultural. And it is already with this beginning beginning climate change that the crops are being devastated by the droughts and the storms. So there is no no cost option. And I think it's a moral issue that as -- and there are many of us in Takoma Park who agree that we have to pay one way or another. And that's why we're supporting this resolution.
NNAMDIWhen you say, "We have to pay one way or another," Gina Mathias, is the city taking any steps to helps residents and local businesses make this transition?
MATHIASAbsolutely. For many years now we have offered low to moderate income homeowners, not cost home energy efficiency upgrades. That includes new appliances, insulation and air ceiling. We've been offering that since 2015. And we will continue to offer that whether or not this resolution passes. But those resources exist for us already. And small business owners also have resources available to them. One of the main parts of this resolution that I think is important is that if implemented carefully we will be helping people reduce their energy bills and improve their indoor air quality and improve the condition of their buildings. And this should reduce their costs overall.
NNAMDIBeth from Takoma Park emails, "How and when will residents have to replace our highly efficient natural gas heating system and new stove? I heard it will be subsidized if you can't afford new electric systems. But will eligibility be determined and who will pay for subsidies? Our taxes are already extremely high."
MATHIASThat's a great question. Your systems have a natural lifespan. Your highly efficient gas furnace and water heater are not going to last forever. And so what is being proposed is that when they have to naturally be replaced is when you would make that switch from fossil fuels to the non-fossil fuel based equipment. That might be in five years. That might in 15 to 20 years. But we want to hit you at that natural replacement cycle so you're not expending extra money that you wouldn't already have to spend on that replacement.
NNAMDIHere's Bill in Fairfax, Virginia. Bill, your turn.
BILLYes. Hi. I was wondering if any consideration is given to nuclear energy. When I read about the toxic consequences of solar energy involved in the not only the mining of the resources of cadmium, lead, cobalt, antimony, that stuff ends up into our waste stream. Nuclear waste is contained. Solar waste is not. And it ends up in our ground water. It's a filthy technology. Again, not only in the mining of its resources, but the solar panels they're not recyclable. They end up in dumps and they're toxic. So what consideration is given to nuclear?
NNAMDIAnd Peter from Arlington emails, "Takoma Park declared itself a nuclear free zone. Are they going to be buying energy from nuclear power plants?"
MATHIASWell, what we're looking at is the electricity grid in Maryland and what is available to us as electric consumers in Takoma Park in the State of Maryland. The good news is that the renewable portfolio Standard in the State of Maryland has already been legislated to be 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. That timeline would work beautifully with the effort to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels within that timeframe.
NNAMDIWhat do you respond, David, to people who say this resolution is an example of government overreach?
BLOCKSTEINI would say that our problem is government under reach. That even on a global level the Paris Climate Accords are voluntary. They're based on national contributions. And as I said business as usual, voluntary efforts have put us at the brink of catastrophe. Just by coincidence today is the birthday of both Gina's son who turned one and my son who turns 25 today. And this is about their future. And the world that they're living in and that they're going to be living in is one where there're going to be tradeoffs and constraints based on the choices that we make. And I think that the laissez faire system of just letting the market control things has gotten us to the place where our children's futures are threatened. And so we need to step up more collectively and work together.
NNAMDIA listener tweeted, "What about Takoma Park residents who want to cook with gas or smoke food with charcoal?"
MATHIASSo as we look at implementation plans and writing of the ordinances there may be scenarios where we have to consider some exemptions based on the overall contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in the city.
NNAMDIHere is -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
MATHIASI was going to also say there are Micheline starred chefs that single the praises of induction cooktops. And if it's good enough for a Micheline starred chef it might be good enough for some residents of Takoma Park. It's something to consider.
NNAMDIHere is Steve in Silver Spring, Maryland. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEHi. I really the applaud the actions of Takoma Park. It's good the jurisdictions are taking some action against global warming, but I'd also like to mention that the most important thing that an individual could do is move to a plant based diet. And animal agriculture contributes 15 percent to climate change, which is quite a bit. It's more than all of the transportation systems put together. And in that vein I was wondering why Takoma looks like they may allow a butcher shop to open downtown. I was wondering what kind of message that would send as far as fighting global warming goes.
MATHIASI think that's a great question. I've been a vegetarian for 25 years. I don't know that that is something that we have discussed at the city level how we can encourage a more plant based diet, but I think that's a timely discussion that we should have.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, David.
BLOCKSTEINAll I will say is that if -- and my wife and I are primarily vegetarians, but not completely. But I would say that if one is concerned about government overreach that the idea that we would be only allowing certain types of businesses in Takoma Park would probably push almost everybody over the edge.
NNAMDIAnd David Blockstein is a Local member of the Takoma Park Mobilization Environmental Committee, TPMEC. Thank you for joining us. Gina Mathias is Sustainability Manager of the City of Takoma Park. Thank you for joining us.
MATHIASThank you so much for having us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we're checking in on D.C.'s efforts to keep sewage out of local rivers. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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