by Ed Lazere, Executive Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute
I was thinking of that hilarious, bizarre quote from Admiral Stockdale — Ross Perot’s 1992 running mate — as I sat down to write this. Why is the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, a budget watchdog that focuses largely on issues like affordable housing and human services, showing up on the DC Environmental Network blog? Was this some kind of mistake?
Actually, there are lots of reasons to be here, and I appreciate the opportunity.
People like you who are passionate about improving DC’s environmental health should get to know more about the DC budget — and we at DCFPI are happy to help. And there are many times reasons that environmental advocates may want to lock arms with advocates for the poor. Here are a few.
Open and Transparent Government: This year, advocates led the cause to get the DC Council’s crucial final budget deliberations open to the public. They were televised, which was a step forward though not perfect. The streetcar fiasco could have been avoided if the Council had released its proposed final budget a few days before the vote — instead of a few hours. I look forward to working with DCEN members to make DC’s budget documents and budget process more open and transparent.
Business Tax Subsidy Accountability: Before you say “huh?,” consider this: The Mayor and DC Council award millions in tax breaks each year to a wide array of development projects. I am thinking of the $25 million offered to Northrop Grumman and a pending proposal to exempt the retail activities in Union Station from property taxes forever. Every dollar of wasteful tax breaks is a dollar that is not available to meet real DC needs.
Friends of the Earth was one of the leading groups to challenge DC’s $700 million baseball stadium boondoggle, and together we almost succeeded in forcing the stadium to be built with a serious private contribution rather than being entirely financed with public funds. It was fun, too.
Revenue Increases: The Great Recession has devastated DC’s finances and forced cuts across the board. The budget crisis is likely to continue for some time. Environmentalists and advocates for the poor can work together to promote a balanced approach to the recession — one that includes revenue increase to help keep important services and programs from being cut.
Environmental Justice: Low-income communities often suffer the most from environmental negligence, and thus have a lot to gain from better environmental stewardship.
So, thanks for having me. I look forward to getting to know you!
by Chris Weiss, Director, DC Environmental Network
DC Environmental Network:
I would like to welcome you to our new DC Environmental Network website. Over the next six months i am hoping to evolve this site to be a tool for Metro Washington region environmentalists to share information about their campaigns and reach out to the broader environmental community. I have nested a blog on the main page to help bring fresh content on many issues. Our current line up of contributors include:
- Cori Lombard, Natural Resources Defense Council – Cori will be writing about Anacostia River restoration issues.
- Councilmember Mary Cheh, DC Council– Mary will be writing about the Council’s exciting work to green the District.
- Brent Blackwelder, President emeritus, Friends of the Earth – Brent will be sharing his vast experience and passion on many environmental issues of concern to the region and planet.
- Jennifer Chavez, Attorney, Earthjustice – Jennifer will be sharing why litigation is an important tool for advocacy on behalf of area watersheds including the Chesapeake Bay, Anacostia River, Potomac River and Rock Creek.
- Mark Buscaino, Executive Director, Casey Trees – Mark will be sharing how important trees are to restoring rivers, cleaning up our air and fighting global warming.
- Ed Lazere, Executive Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute – Ed will be talking about how important it is to expand our coalitions beyond the traditional environmental community in order to effect change. He will also use his extensive budget expertise to help us define the funding issues of our time.
- Maria Fyodorova, Environmental Communications Consultant – Maria will challenge the environmental community to look inward and come up with ways to increase our legitimacy and credibility.
Our website will try and show the face of the local environmental community. I am hoping you will help in developing our site more with your creative suggestions and engagement.
SPECIAL INVITATION: I want to invite you to an upcoming DC Environmental Network Luncheon on “How Green is the District’s Development Future” this Thursday the 29th at noon at Friends of the Earth, 1100 15th Street NW, 11th floor. The face of our neighborhoods could change for the worse unless the environmental community gets involved in shaping how new development projects are planned. Badly planned developments can pollute our rivers and air, destroy marshlands and trees and contribute to global warming. Well planned developments can grow our city, protect our environment and improve our quality of life. I believe this is an issue of critical importance to all metro based environmentalists.
Hope to see you on Thursday.
by Cori Lombard, Legal Fellow, Natural Resources Defense Council
Most of us think of rain as cleansing – it washes away all the dirt and grime and leaves everything fresh and clean. But have you ever considered where all that dirt and grime go? When rain falls or snow melts on roads and buildings and parking lots, its natural path into the ground is blocked. Instead of being absorbed like it would be in nature, the stormwater runs off those impervious surfaces, picking up pollution along the way. From there, the pollution/stormwater mix runs into storm drains and gets dumped, untreated, into the Anacostia, Rock Creek and Potomac.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long understood how damaging stormwater pollution is to water quality. Under its Clean Water Act authority, EPA issues permits that require cities to take steps to reduce stormwater runoff. EPA recently issued a draft of the DC stormwater permit, which is called a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System or MS4 permit.
The best way to deal with stormwater is to mimic what happens in nature, by putting that water back into the ground where it falls, rather than funneling it into drains and pipes. This is achieved through “green infrastructure” measures like rain gardens, green roofs, tree cover, permeable pavement, rain barrels, or anything else that keeps rainwater from running off into our sewers. Not only is this a very effective way to deal with stormwater pollution, but increasing vegetation and green space improves air quality, reduces energy costs, and increases property values. The draft DC MS4 permit contains specific targets for implementation of green infrastructure controls in the District and this is good news.
EPA’s draft permit requires all construction, whether it’s new or rebuilt from existing development, to retain the first 1.2 inches of stormwater on-site during any storm. Retaining stormwater on-site prevents runoff from washing pollutants into the waterways and denigrating water quality. Studies have shown that a 1.2 inch retention standard in the District is feasible and cost effective. In fact, federal buildings in the District have to meet a much higher standard, retaining the first 1.7 inches inches of stormwater on site.
However, Mayor Fenty’s District Department of the Environment (DDOE), one of the agencies responsible for implementing the permit, wants a lower standard with more readily available waivers for developers. Actually, DDOE doesn’t want EPA to issue a retention standard at all, they want to do it themselves. There’s just one problem – by law, DDOE should have already implemented a stormwater retention standard, but they never did. DC City Council passed a law in 2008 requiring DDOE to implement a one inch retention standard for the Anacostia Redevelopment Zone. The deadline for implementation was fall 2009. It’s now summer 2010 and DDOE has issued no standards. In light of its past performance, DDOE’s promise to promptly issue stormwater standards for the entire District lacks credibility. DDOE should support the fair and reasonable retention standard EPA adopted in the draft MS4 permit.
When the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget was sent to the Council, I was concerned that this reform would be stopped in its tracks. The proposal cut sustainable energy spending by half: from $23 million to $10 million. It also essentially eliminated the SEU, which was supposed to be funded at $7.5 million, not the meager $1 million in the budget.
After consulting with members of the SEU Advisory Board, who opined that this cut would have a destructive chilling effect on competition for the first 5-year term of the SEU, I made it a priority to restore needed funding.
Fortunately, with the help of DCEN and my colleagues, I’m happy to report that we were able to restore the entire SEU budget. But it serves as a lesson that we must be ever vigilant to ensure long-term sustainability in the District.
Have you ever sat on a porch to relax or read a book and been driven indoors by sonic booming lawn mowers that make you feel part of the runway at National Airport? If this is not enough, how about adding a few leaf blowers into the mix as you stroll through your neighborhood and you might as well be operating a jack-hammer.
Did you ever wonder about the ecological cost of modern lawns beyond the noise and pollution from mowing. I’m talking about the pesticides, fertilizers, and water needed for maintenance and the subsequent runoff into rivers and streams, bays and estuaries.
When looking at greenhouse gas emissions, off-road machinery and vehicles annually produce 220 million tons of carbon dioxide. Of this total from off-road vehicles, over half comes from mining, construction, and farm machines. Surprisingly, lawn and garden equipment like mowers and leaf blowers produce about 12% or 26 million tons of the total. Air quality in urban areas can suffer greatly in hot weather as a result.
Fortunately, a number of organizations such as Beyond Pesticides have been promoting alternatives to lawns and safer lawns and have a superb website with numerous fact sheets covering some of the points I am making. One organization SafeLawns.org has featured the slogan: “Time to Get Your Grass Off Gas”—most fitting as the BP spill is the latest in the ongoing oil spills, leaks, and other fiascoes attributable from our dependence on oil.
By growing a smaller lawn and/or switching to organic lawn care you can reduce or even eliminate many of these gas guzzling components.
Switching to efficient Energy Star electric mowers or battery-powered cordless mowers can get rid of oil spills, save on trips for fuel, and reduce noise.
In addition to the reduction of gasoline usage, there are great health benefits for your family such as less asthma and other diseases, reduction in leukemia rates in your pets, and fewer contaminants entering the Chesapeake Bay. Studies ﬁnd that pesticides such as the weedkiller 2,4-D pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute ﬁnds that household and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as sevenfold.
Getting rid of noisy and unnecessary machines would make for a salubrious city. Over 100 cities have ordinances restricting leaf blowers.
Botany Professor Douglas Tallamy at the University of Delaware has pointed out the great opportunity to reverse declining biological diversity in the United States by converting numerous urban lawns into attractive native shrubs, bushes, and small trees. With native bushes and shrubs which are pest resistant, you don’t have lots of maintenance that consumes energy, water, pesticides. And you can get a lot more butterflies in your yard.
Have you ever gone out to enjoy a paddle or a walk along the shores of one of our local streams, particularly in the days after a storm, and found yourself discouraged at the state of the water? Perhaps as your hands dipped into the water along with your paddle, you wondered whether the oils, chemicals, and other urban runoff were endangering your health. Perhaps you spotted one our area’s rare eagles and wondered whether it too is being exposed to all this urban gunk.
For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed that these pollution incidents are okay, as long as the waters were, on average over the course of the year, meeting water quality requirements. Members of the Anacostia Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, and Friends of the Earth thought this was wrong, and took the issue to court. Represented by Earthjustice, they filed a lawsuit under a provision of the Clean Water Act that requires EPA to adopt pollution limits called “total maximum daily loads” for waters that are impaired – like the Potomac River, Rock Creek, and Anacostia River are – by pollution from urban runoff and combined sewer overflows.
Earlier this year, a court ruled that EPA must not only adopt these legally required “daily” pollution limits, but must do so within a set schedule. As a result, the District’s waters will soon be covered by daily pollution limits for bacteria, metals, and harmful organic compounds. This was a simple but important win for all of us who treasure our local water resources and want to see them restored within our lifetime.
The Urban Forest Preservation Act, passed in 2002 with a wide coalition of government, non-profit and individual supporters, set the groundwork for preserving the District’s tree canopy. For those wishing to remove trees over 18” in diameter (56” in circumference), they must first either pay a fee (or fine) into the Tree Fund, or replant a specified number of replacement trees, to make up for the canopy lost.
The Tree Fund was intended to be a “safe” place to deposit any fees/fines which were then to be drawn upon for planting replacement trees. The Act states that moneys in the Fund shall not revert to the General Fund of the District of Columbia for any purpose.
Despite these safeguards, DC’s FY 2011 budget emptied the $539,000 in the Tree Fund and deposited it into the General Fund. That means 2000 trees will not be planted, and those who contributed to the Fund under the assumption that their moneys would be used to plant trees have been mislead.
This is a lesson that we should not forget. Trees and the legal structures created to preserve them are only as effective as the residents who care about them. To that end, I ask that you read our “Call to Action” on page 4 of Casey Trees’ July/August Newsletter. Contact your elected representative and let them know that trees are important to your neighborhood, and that the Tree Fund moneys should be restored. DC is known as the City of Trees – let’s keep it that way.
The DC Environmental Network Invites All Metro-Based Environmentalists to a BROWN BAG LUNCHEON.
How development projects at Poplar Point, Ft. Lincoln, McMillan Park and other sites around the District will shape our communities.
- Jim Dougherty, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club
- Tony Norman, Chairman, McMillan Park Committee (invited)
- Dottie Yunger, Anacostia Riverkeeper
- Chris Weiss, Director, DC Environmental Network
Even as the national economy continues to suffer developers and government agencies are positioning the District of Columbia and surrounding region to move as quickly as possible on numerous development ventures both new and old including projects at Poplar Point, Ft. Lincoln and McMillan Park in the District. Depending on how carefully Mayor Fenty and the DC Council shepherd plans for these new developments the District could either see well designed livable communities and businesses or projects that negatively impact the health and economic viability of our city.
Many in the Districts environmental community are particularly concerned about urban green spaces. Urban green spaces play a key role in improving the livability of our towns and cities. The quality of life and viability of cities depend largely on the design of urban green as well as open, public spaces in order to fulfill their role as an important component of our city. Urban green spaces are seen by many as an important contribution to the sustainable development of cities.
However, based on preliminary plans and visioning some of us have seen so far for Poplar Point, Ft. Lincoln and McMillan Park, the potential benefits of green spaces are not being adequately prioritized.
Join us as our panelists discuss strategies for strong, economically viable communities and protection and expansion of urban green spaces in a way that grows the District.
Each panelist will speak for 5-10 minutes. We will then convene a discussion open to all participants.
DATE & TIME: Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:00 NOON to 1:30 PM
PLACE: Global Green USA,1100 15th Street NW, 11th Floor.
CALL-IN NUMBER: 775-269-3893 when prompted enter 399602
Please remember to bring a picture ID to get in the building.