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County Board Approves New Energy Plan Despite Some Concerns

After months of debate and discussion, the Arlington County Board has unanimously approved a plan to reach carbon neutrality in Arlington by 2050.

The plan, approved at the Saturday (Sept. 21) County Board meeting, has environmental goals across six categories, from new building regulations to transportation goals and standards. More from a county press release:

The plan incorporates goals for buildings; resilience; renewable energy; transportation, County government actions, and education and human behavior. It envisions a carbon neutral Arlington by 2050 that will be more resilient, where all electricity will come from renewable sources, where more residents will drive electric vehicles and more will use transit, and where homes and buildings will be more energy-efficient.

The plan has been criticized as both too aspirational and not ambitious enough. While there was near-universal support for the idea behind the plan among speakers at the meeting, various members of the public and commission representatives expressed concerns about its implementation.

“We need to ensure sensitivity to individual circumstances isn’t lost in said implementation,” said Scott Pedowitz, government affairs manager for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. “Businesses and residents should have the flexibility to meet the targets in a matter that makes practical and economic sense for their particular circumstance.”

Most of those who spoke represented various social and environmental groups and expressed support for tighter local environmental regulations. Several dozen gathered at a Sierra Club-organized rally outside of the County government headquarters at 2100 Clarendon Blvd to support the new plan and its clean energy goals

“We are excited about the clean energy bill coming from Arlington,” Karen Nightengale, president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, told ARLnow. “The community needs it. It is really impacting multiple communities, especially brown and black communities living in low lying areas. We are excited about Arlington taking this step to go forward.”

Others testifying in the public hearing said they hoped for even earlier deadlines and stricter environmental measures.

“To really aim for a cleaner County, we need an earlier deadline for this plan,” said Jason Spitzak.

Elenor Hodges, executive director of EcoAction Arlington, said the recent protests in D.C. and activist Greta Thunberg’s testimony at the House of Foreign Affairs and Climate Crisis Committee were inspiring.

“We saw Greta Thunberg sail across the Atlantic and yesterday, thousands marched across the world in a climate strike,” Hodges said. “I hope we can take on [this] ambitious plan.”

Hodges said she’d like to see all new construction meet zero-carbon emissions standards and for Arlington’s tree canopy to be preserved or expanded.

In a three-page letter to the County Board, William Ross, chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, said he was disappointed in the final product. Ross argued the plan doesn’t do enough to promote or explore new green space options in Arlington.

“For all of the technical intensity of the plan, it misses some critical opportunities to improve our carbon footprint and mitigate the negative aspects of energy consumption because the plan fails to adequately address aspects of energy efficiency and environmental protection that are not wholly dependent on technology-based solutions,” Ross said.

After the plan’s approval, the Arlington County website says staff will now get to work on an implementation framework to be brought back to the County Board next June.

Jay Westcott contributed to this story

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