Environmental advocates on Nov. 17 asked Fairfax County supervisors to press state legislators on a bevy of issues ranging from air quality and trees to sewers and cleaner transportation options.
The activists spoke at the supervisors’ Nov. 17 public hearing regarding the legislative package, which is aimed at persuading General Assembly members in the session that begins Jan. 13.
The environmentalists all belonged to Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS), an interfaith organization consisting of more than 75 faith communities and more than 2,400 activists in Northern Virginia.
FACS board chairman Eric Goplerud asked county officials to support legislation to automatically update Virginia’s Uniform Statewide Building Code to conform with international energy-efficiency standards, which are about 25-percent stricter. Doing so would improve the efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, which use about 52 percent of Virginia’s energy, he said.
“Virginia’s weak energy-efficiency construction standards increase operating costs for homebuyers and renters, jeopardize the health and safety of Virginians, needlessly squander energy and increase greenhouse-gas emissions,” Goplerud said.
FACS member Cindy Speas lamented the loss of tree canopy in the county, saying this contributed to higher summer temperatures, more stormwater runoff, a reduced pollution buffer along the Beltway and diminished character of local neighborhoods.
“We can’t wait any longer to move forward in our joint quest to save and expand our urban forest,” she said.
Richard Galliher, a FACS member who owns a 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchise, wanted the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s recycling target bumped up from 25 percent to 80. He also supported a ban or tax on single-use plastic and paper bags, saying eight states now had them. Ten states have bottle-deposit bills and six ban Styrofoam, he added.
“All of these consumer-facing taxes and bans are a daily reminder [that] what you do with your trash matters,” Galliher said.
Galliher also pressed for higher air-quality standards for incinerators.
“Virginia is a dumping ground for the rest of the United States,” he said. “New York City and D.C. haul their stuff down here so we can burn it at [the Covanta Fairfax Inc. facility]. They bypass their own incinerators to do so. That’s not fair to the people of Lorton or Fairfax. We can’t control what comes in, but we can control what goes out.”
FACS member John Clewett supported having the state adopt standards for low- and zero-emission vehicles and promote the sale of electric and hybrid vehicles. He also favored establishment of a state broadband office to facilitate more distance learning, telemedicine and other such activities to reduce vehicle travel.
Supervisors discussed the legislative agenda Nov. 24 and were scheduled to adopt the package Dec. 1, after the Sun Gazette’s print-edition deadline.
This year’s package touches on many familiar topics, but thanks to a change in political winds in Richmond following Democrats’ triumphs at the polls in November 2019, the General Assembly this year took care of several requests that long had been on Fairfax County officials’ wish list, said Supervisor James Walkinshaw (D-Braddock), who chairs the board’s Legislative Committee.
The Board of Supervisors’ top priority will be securing more state support for education, including full restoration of “cost-of-competing” funds, which provide more pay to teachers residing in high-cost-of-living areas, such as Northern Virginia.
Regarding transportation, supervisors want legislators to restore funding fully to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to make up for the moneys diverted to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 2018.
Supervisors also have several economic requests of state lawmakers. They would like to see number of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority board seats increased from seven to nine to further diversify participation from the business community.
In addition, county supervisors would like the General Assembly to allow emergency continuity-of-government ordinances passed during the pandemic to remain in place up to one year after the disaster ends.
On the human-services front, supervisors want the General Assembly to:
• Provide state funding and actions to increase options for affordable-housing availability.
• Ensure sustainable state funding for diversion programs, which provides treatment instead of jail time for some low-level offenders.
• Give more state support to address the ongoing substance-abuse-disorder epidemic.
Supervisors also would like legislators to update and modernize Virginia’s funding formula for commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices to reflect ongoing efforts to improve the criminal-justice system, Walkinshaw said.
Supervisors on Dec. 8 will hold their annual legislative work session with Northern Virginia’s General Assembly delegation, but will conduct it “virtually” because of the pandemic.