Local environmental advocates stress urgent need to change habits

Electric bus (via Fairfax County Public Schools)

Environmental advocates say Fairfax County’s government, residents, and businesses need to drastically accelerate their efforts to go green.

During budget hearings last week, speakers urged the county to increase its funding for environmental initiatives and recommended adopting electric vehicle rebates — which the state hasn’t been funding — as well as zero energy buildings and other measures.

“We need to start acting like our hair’s on fire — because it is,” Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions cofounder David Kepley said at a budget hearing on Wednesday (April 13).

A county report released in February projected that extreme weather days could become more prevalent, with the area jumping from about a week’s worth of 95-degree days to nearly a month or more by 2050.

Paul Atelsek, a supporter of the faith-based group, said there are billions of dollars available for low and no-emission vehicles through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that President Joe Biden signed in September.

Concerned that the county lacks the staffing capacity to apply in time for the May 31 deadline, Atelsek suggested that the Electrification Coalition, a privately funded consultancy, could assist Fairfax County with its 2022 application for free.

Fairfax County Department of Transportation didn’t immediately reply to a message seeking comment about its grant applications.

“Fairfax County plans to electrify its transit fleet by 2035, but it needs to move faster,” he said. “Every gas, diesel and even hybrid vehicle is a carbon dioxide pump driving climate change.”

The county has placed a greater focus on environmental issues since creating a Joint Environmental Task Force and the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) in 2019.

The Board of Supervisors approved a 5-cent tax on plastic bag use, increased the ability for residents and businesses to add solar panels in the county, and adopted a plan last year setting targets for carbon emission reductions.

Thanks to financial support from the state and Dominion Energy, the county government and public school system have both started integrating electric vehicles into their fleets, and the county plans to stop buying diesel buses by 2024.

The OEEC is also developing a resilence plan expected to be finalized this summer and working with the county’s Economic Development Authority and businesses to gather input on the development of a green bank, a spokesperson told FFXnow.

“We’ve done some great things here, but we…have concerns about the county’s seeming lack of urgency,” Kepley said.

Faith Alliance cofounder Scott Peterson noted that the local government produces just 5% of the county’s carbon emissions. He asked the board to create a chief sustainability officer like what neighboring jurisdictions have, including Prince William County.

While Fairfax County lacks that specific position, the OEEC’s director acts as a liaison to the business community and is a peer to other county agency leaders and directors, spokesperson Aline Althen said in an email.

“He oversees the work of the OEEC and ensures that all relevant agencies are ‘rowing in the same direction’ to achieve the targets and goals outlined by the Board,” Althen said.

Peterson said the county needs to connect with business executives in the plethora of locally headquartered Fortune 500 companies to spur change.

Photo via Fairfax County Public Schools