Montgomery County Breaks New Ground in Making Carbon Polluters Pay
The Montgomery County Council voted on May 19, 2010 to require large emitters of carbon dioxide in the County to pay $5.00 on every ton of carbon dioxide they produce. The tax affects stationary source facilities that generate more than one million tons of CO2 a year. In Montgomery County, the only facility that exceeds this threshold is the Dickerson coal-fired power plant owned by the Mirant Corporation.
Mirant worked hard to kill this bill arguing that the excise tax—somewhere between $7 million and $15 million a year—would force it to shut down its Dickerson plant. According to Mirant, county residents and businesses would then have to import "dirty" power from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to make up for the loss of Dickerson power. Voicing a new-found concern for the environment, Mirant went on to say that importing this power "could necessitate building more high voltage transmission lines that cut through forests and farmland."
At the public hearing held on May 18, 2010, Council members heard testimony from Mirant, the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and from anti-tax proponents and climate change skeptics. We focused our testimony on the profits earned by the Dickerson plant to see if Mirant's claim was realistic. We estimated that the Dickerson plant generated profits of $61 million in 2009. The Mirant representative said that "might be on the high side," but didn't refute it. The Sierra Club doubts Mirant would shut down its Dickerson facility and throw away $60 million in profits in order to avoid paying a $15 million carbon tax. If they do not reduce the output of their Dickerson plant, then Mirant's warning of more "dirty" power being imported into Maryland from neighboring states is nothing more than a scare tactic.
Thank you to everyone who sent e-mails to the County Council in support of the bill. Thank you Councilmember Roger Berliner for taking the lead on this important bill and to Councilmembers Marc Elrich, George Leventhal, Phil Andrews and Nancy Navarro for co-sponsoring it. Finally, thank you to Councilmembers Nancy Floreen, Valerie Ervin and Duchy Trachtenberg for voting in favor of the bill. At the same time, we're disappointed that Councilmember Mike Knapp voted against it.
Montgomery County's Climate Protection Plan - Progress Report
Earlier this year, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) submitted the first progress report on the Montgomery County Climate Protection Plan. The County has begun to implement most of the 58 actions recommended in the Plan, which was developed to address the County's goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent (from FY05) every five years between 2010 and 2050.
Many of the programs in the plan are already operating, providing services and resources to residents and businesses. Some new, innovative programs to help reduce the County's carbon footprint are a direct result of the government grants recently awarded to the DEP. These grants enable the County to expand the efforts to reduce greenhouse gases during a time of severe financial constraints.
One of the new initiatives, the "Set It and Save" Programmable Thermostat Program, is supported with a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration. DEP has been working with community organizations to install more than 300 programmable thermostats in low-to-moderate income homes. These devices are designed to help homeowners reduce their energy use and save on energy bills.
Over the next year DEP will be launching the "Home Energy Loan Program" (HELP) which will provide low interest loans for energy efficiency audits and retrofits. For more information on HELP, go to DEP's Home Energy Loan Program page.
The Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program is another new federal grant program. DEP, with technical support from EPA, is developing a transportation and development modeling tool to assess factors related to carbon emissions. The main goal of this project is to increase the County's capacity to comprehensively assess the implications of land use and transportation policies on the Climate Protection Plan goals.
For more information on the Climate Protection Plan and the Report, go to the DEP Climate Change page.
Sierra Club Acts to Save Metro
In a time of unprecedented crisis for Metro, the Montgomery County Sierra Club has fought to ensure the future of regional transit. Facing an operating deficit of $189 million, in April Metro contemplated crippling service cuts alongside major fare increases. Then, just as a compromise was patched together averting the worst cuts, Maryland threatened to withdraw crucial capital funding.
A healthy Metro is essential to all of the Montgomery Sierra Club's transit and Smart Growth goals, such as the Purple Line. An unreliable, dangerous Metro means increased sprawl, automobile congestion, air pollution, and environmental encroachment.
Recognizing this, the Montgomery County Sierra Club fought as part of the regional Sustainable Metro DC to ensure Metro's future. In mid-April, we sent a letter to the governor, signed by a coalition, urging that Maryland commit a full $30 million to avoid service cuts, money which other jurisdictions would match. While Maryland only agreed to about half that, it was enough to avoid the worst cuts.
Just as this significant, though partial, victory occurred, came devastating news. Maryland was delaying two years payment of $56 million in critical capital obligations. Even worse, they left a long-term capital budget agreement in doubt. Following a string of accidents, including a catastrophic crash that killed 9 people in June of 2009, these budget cuts may have ended Metro as we know it.
We redoubled our efforts. After months of grassroots public education, insider lobbying and pitching for news stories, Sierra Club turned its attention to the Washington Post's editorial board. Numerous editorials and news stories later, we have largely reached our destination, at least for FY2011.