The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted Tuesday night to adopt the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' interim climate mitigation goals, joining other Northern Virginia jurisdictions in aiming for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 100% renewable electricity by the same year.
The vote followed yet another round of contentious discussion that culminated in a 5-3, party-line vote, with Republican supervisors Yesli Vega (Coles District), Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville District) and Pete Candland (Gainesville District) opposing the measure.
Sponsored by Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye, the resolution makes no commitments or substantive policy changes, but is meant to begin a process by which the county’s government can identify feasible means of cutting its emissions. Democratic supervisors mentioned potential long-term ideas such as enhancing building efficiency standards, electrifying the county’s fleet of vehicles and incentivizing the use of renewables.
“In the long run, not only is it good for our planet and the environment, … but it’s good tax dollar stewardship as well,” Boddye said Tuesday night. “When we really invest and take seriously when it comes to climate change and environmentalism and clean energy and efficiency goals, we get a lot better bang for our buck.”
The Council of Governments’ climate goals were adopted by the regional body’s board of directors in October.
“It is time that we take environmental policy very seriously, and what this does is simply set goals for the county to try to attain,” said Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Franklin. “This is a really good step in the right direction for Prince William County. We’ve never done anything like this before, and it’s really time that we stepped up to the plate.”
Republicans on the board ultimately asked that Boddye postpone a vote on the resolution until they could have more input on its language. Lawson led the opposition, arguing that a previous language change had removed the resolution’s recognition of the role that land use plays in the county’s emissions.
Those concerns gave way to arguments from Candland and Vega that the targets could ultimately cost taxpayers in energy costs or taxes.
“I think we all agree that we want cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner soil, absolutely concur with that. How we get there, we might differ a little bit, but those are the devils in the details,” Lawson said. “Our land-use policies really need to be tied to this or we’re not going to accomplish a reduction in greenhouse gas, especially when you consider that the biggest emitter of them are vehicles. If we don’t grow in a smart manner … and build communities that are tied to mass transit that get cars off the roads, we’re not going to reduce these gasses no matter how much we try.”
Laswon accused the Democrats of removing the previous land-use language to appease developers, but Boddye said that wasn’t the case. He said certain language on land use had been removed and turned into an action item in the resolution, which calls on the county to incorporate “equity principles and environmental justice” into the comprehensive plan.
But Vega argued that the resolution would stand in conflict with the Council of Governments’ target for the county of adding another 70,000 new residences by 2030. Board Chair Ann Wheeler responded that how and where the county allowed those homes to be built would make the difference.
“[The council] isn’t telling us that we’re going to have 100,000 people. … They know that those people are coming; it’s not like we’re inviting them here. They know that the Northern Virginia region is going to grow,” Wheeler said. “[They talk] specifically about activity centers in Prince William County and growth within those activity centers.”
In its 2019 report on the future of housing in the region, the Council of Governments said the region should aim to add 75% of the estimated 320,000 housing units needed between 2020 and 2030 in “activity centers” – which feature dense, multi-use development designed to limit the need for vehicle trips – or in locations near high-capacity transit.
But Lawson said the current board hadn’t always lived up to those ideals when deciding on land-use issues.
In March, Democrats voted 5-2 to approve just over 500 homes in relatively low density levels at the Devlin property, which was rezoned from agricultural to planned mixed residential to allow for the Stanley Martin development.
“If you pass this as it’s written, expect us to criticize your land-use votes that are counter to the environment,” Lawson said.