The Prince William Board of County Supervisors adopted an ambitious set of climate planning goals Tuesday evening on a party-line vote.
The resolution’s goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, achieving 100% renewable electricity for county government operations by 2030, 100% of the county's electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035 and creating a public advisory body to direct the county in reaching those goals. The resolution does not commit to any specific initiatives or policy changes.
The board voted 5-3 to approve the measure with all five Democrats in support and the board’s three Republicans voting against it.
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, who carried the resolution, said the move allows the board to begin discussing the county's climate planning goals and for the public to have input in the conversation.
“This resolution puts the flag post down and says, ‘We want to start this process,’” Boddye said.
The resolution’s climate planning goals are partly based on goals set by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, but were also created in consultation with Community environmental groups and county staff, Boddye said in an email.
Supervisor Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, said the resolution is a step in the right direction, and is the first time the board has considered setting climate planning goals for the county.
“With half a million residents in Prince William County, it is time that we take environmental policy very seriously. And what this does is simply set goals for the county to try and attain them,” Franklin said. “We've never done anything like this before, and it's about time that we step up to that plate.”
But some Democratic supervisors, while supportive of the resolution, acknowledged that the county could fall short of the stated goals.
Any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the county and across the region will require reduced vehicle miles traveled per person and more mass transit options. That could be a hurdle in Prince William County where hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of road projects are currently in the works, including a $300 million proposal to create a Va. 28 bypass in Manassas, which so far has no public transit component.
“I would say they're aspirational goals,” said at-large board Chair Ann Wheeler. “In terms of changing the way we're doing business in Prince William County and acknowledging climate change, this is the time to do this … We might fail miserably, but we need to start somewhere.”
Ivy Main, a McLean-based lawyer who serves as the Sierra Club’s renewable energy chairperson, said in an interview Tuesday that many Virginia localities are creating, or have created, climate action plans, including most Northern Virginia locales.
“A lot of them are waking up to the fact that they can be saving money by doing some of these actions,” Main said. “Once they catch on that this doesn’t mean a real hit to their budgets, that’s when we’re seeing a lot more traction.”
But Main said that targeting climate solutions for transportation is “a heavy lift.”
“Vehicles account for 40% of carbon emissions statewide. So, it’s a huge piece of it,” Main said. “Changing how we do transportation is much harder because it involves planning and changing people’s travel patterns. But it starts with people realizing that building roads always leads to more traffic.”
The Republicans on the board said they opposed the resolution largely because it did not provide any indication of how the county will achieve the climate benchmarks. They also noted it does not address how county land-use and transportation policies impact climate change.
“Our land use policies really need to be tied to this or we're not going to accomplish a reduction in greenhouse gases, especially when you consider that the biggest emitter of them are vehicles,” said Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville. “If we don't build communities that are tied to mass transit and transit options that get cars off the roads, we're not going to reduce these gases, no matter how much we try.”
Lawson added that she “liked the idea of the resolution” but thought it needed “a lot more meat to it.”
“This has to be tied to our land-use policies. Otherwise, to me, it’s just platitudes,” Lawson said.
Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, echoed Lawson’s concerns about the proposed climate goals.
“The elephant in the room comes down to, ‘How do we impact climate change as a board of county supervisors? How do we really impact the environment?’ It comes down to the land-use decisions that we make as a board,” Vega said.
The resolution received support from numerous local conservation and land-use advocacy organizations, including the Prince William County Conservation Alliance, the Greater Prince William Climate Action Network, Mothers Out Front and Active Prince William.
More than two dozen county residents spoke in favor of the resolution during public comment time.
In a press release issued Wednesday morning, Sandy Holland, a member of Mothers Out Front, said that “passing the county’s first climate action resolution marks a good first step in prioritizing the health and safety for future generations of Prince William County residents.”
“As a PWC mother of young adults who were raised here in the county and may very well have families of their own here someday, this resolution represents the beginning of the legacy we leave for our youth,” Holland said.
Josey Wease, a young Prince William County resident and a member of the Greater Prince William Climate Action Network, said that, “seeing the global impacts of climate change increasing every year can be daunting, but pushing for change within my community gives me hope for a greener future.”
“This climate resolution is urgently needed and will allow our community to move forward in building resiliency to the upcoming challenges posed by the climate crisis,” Wease said. “These goals will provide a set of standards to meet the needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow.”
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