Localities Lead Virginia on Cutting Carbon, Commonwealth Lags

Media Contacts
Sarah Bucci

Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center

Richmond, VA – As public concern about extreme weather ramps up, cities and counties across Virginia are proving that we can win the fight against global warming.

In lieu of comprehensive state or federal legislation, local governments across the commonwealth have stepped up to implement community environmental programs aimed at protecting future generations from the worst impacts of climate change.

Today, a new report from Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center, Moving America Forward, shows even as federal energy efficiency requirements have helped Virginia reduce emissions, leaders in Richmond could be playing a much larger role in reducing carbon pollution.

While state-level clean energy and energy efficiency policies lag, many local governments across the commonwealth have stepped up to implement community environmental programs aimed at protecting future generations from the worst impacts of climate change and promoting energy efficiency and clean energy.

“Virginians don’t have to look out-of-state for examples of innovative policies addressing global warming,” said Madison Poche, Federal Field Associate with Environment Virginia. “Many Virginia municipalities are blazing the trail in tackling carbon emissions fueling climate change and implementing strong energy efficiency programs.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Federal energy efficiency policies have helped avoid as much carbon pollution as 114,000 cars produce in a year in Virginia.
  • The success of clean energy policies, such as strong renewable energy standards, in other states have proven that investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency can cut carbon pollution, and could help Virginia meet federal carbon standards.

Environment Virginia highlighted just two localities, Fairfax County and the City of Charlottesville, to illustrate the action being taken in many parts of Virginia.

In Fairfax County, highlights from the Environmental Improvement Program include:

  • Green Building Policy calls for county buildings over 10,000 square feet to be built to LEED certifications. So far, 13 county buildings have been LEED certified, including the Richard Byrd Library, which saves $15,000 in energy costs annually.
  • Through the Vehicle Replacement Program, the county’s vehicle fleet is replaced with more energy-efficient vehicles where appropriate. As of January 2013, the county’s fleet included 120 hybrid-electric vehicles, saving 60,000 gallons of gas each year.
  • Fairfax County’s Facilities Management Department hit their goal of reducing energy use by 10% in 10 years, saving over $7 million between 2001 and 2010.
  • The Green Purchasing Program directs county departments to consider the environmental impacts of the goods and services they purchase. In FY2012, 65% of all County supplies – from carpets to printer cartridges- had recycled or green attributes.

“Fairfax County is proud to implement programs that reduce pollution and build a stronger community for future generations,” said Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova. “Fairfax County will continue to work with businesses, residents and community organizations to position the county as a leader in energy efficiency, sustainability, and green technology.”

Fairfax County bases its approach to addressing climate change on its Cool Counties Pledge, originated by U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly when he served as Fairfax County Chairman. The County Board pledged to reduce emissions to 80% below 2007 levels by 2050 and to develop an inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and a regional plan to hit reduction targets.

“As Chairman of Fairfax County we launched the Cool Counties initiative, the first comprehensive environmental plan for the county and a model throughout the country. Now in Congress I’m proud to build on that success and continue to partner with local and regional leaders to address climate change,” said U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly, who represents Virginia’s 11th District. “But this is only one part of the solution. We also need leaders in Washington and Richmond to stand up and finally get serious about comprehensive climate policy by investing in clean energy and cutting carbon pollution from power plants.”

Best practices from the City of Charlottesville and community partners include:

  • The creation of a city-level Climate Protection Program to oversee and drive forward emissions reductions programs in the city.
  • A partnership between the City of Charlottesville and LEAP to provide assistance and information to City residents, businesses and organizations to promote energy efficiency updates to homes and buildings. Since 2010, LEAP has served 1,500 homeowners, saving the average homeowner $490 in annual energy savings and 2.7 million kWh of electricity.
  • Partnership in a regional Local Climate Action Planning Process (LCAPP) in 2009 through a partnership between the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia, which provided recommendations and a framework for the City to further develop goals and programs to reduce energy use and overall carbon emissions.
  • An ongoing energy use reduction goal and energy management program for City facilities, continuing the success of a 29.5% reduction between 2000-2011 that was achieved while also expanding the building portfolio. This reduction produce avoided costs of over $840,000 in 2011.
  • Increasing financing options – such as an interest rate buy down and the Clean Energy Revolving Loan Fund – to residents, businesses and organizations for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades in partnership with LEAP and the UVA Community Credit Union.

“Energy efficiency programs are reducing pollution, creating jobs, and saving consumers money right here in Charlottesville,” said Charlottesville Vice-Mayor Dede Smith. “Limits on carbon from power plants could help spur even more clean energy here in Virginia.”

“Since 2010, LEAP has helped central Virginia residents, businesses, and organizations reduce their energy use through efficiency,” said Tim Leroux, Director of Operations with LEAP (the Local Energy Alliance Program). “Through partnerships with the City of Charlottesville, we’ve launched programs like the Clean Energy Commercial Loan Program. Through energy efficiency local businesses can save money on their bottom-line and support our community by reducing pollution.”

A majority of Virginians agree that we must take action to cut carbon pollution from power plants and, to date, over 150,000 public comments from Virginians have been submitted to the EPA in support of these standards.

Sarah Bucci, Environment Virginia Campaign Director, pointed to opposition from big polluters as a roadblock to action. This General Assembly session, some Virginia lawmakers even introduced a bill intended to obstruct the EPA’s Clean Air Act authority to limit carbon from power plants in Virginia.

“By using energy more efficiently, and by generating more power from clean, renewable sources, we are delivering a one-two punch in the fight against global warming,” Bucci concluded. “Our leaders can start by continuing to reject attacks on the EPA, and follow the lead of localities like Fairfax and Charlottesville by supporting the EPA’s plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants.”