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Officials Want Montgomery County To Regain Lead In Environmental Policy

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 1/27/2014, 3:25pm  ET

Philip Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council speaks at a Monday press conference as Councilmember Roger Berliner looks on

Six county councilmembers on Monday voiced their support for a package of energy and sustainability laws they say will put Montgomery County back in the lead when it comes to environmental policy.

Bethesda Councilmember Roger Berliner said he had the support of the majority of the Council on all 13 bills in a legislative package to be introduced Tuesday. The bills include measures to make installing solar panels easier, a requirement that new commercial buildings meet LEED Silver standards and a requirement that the county government up its use of renewable energy.

“It’s pretty simple really. If we want to help our planet, improve the quality of life in Montgomery County and foster a green economy here, we need to use less energy and more clean energy,” Berliner said.

With Berliner were representatives of national and local environmental organizations, County Executive Isiah Leggett’s director of Environmental Protection and five Council colleagues. A few talked about how fortunate they felt to represent an area where solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations and renewable energy aren’t a highly divisive topic.

“I want to say how good it is to be in Montgomery County, where these issues are not debatable, where being out front, doing the right thing on the environment is not something that’s subject to divisive debate,” Councilmember Marc Elrich said. “The climate change issue is real and somebody has to be serious about it. I really firm believe that this has more and more become about local solutions, that people are going to look at Washington and say, ‘You do not have the right to condemn us to a future that we don’t want to be a part of.’”

One bill would require that at least half of the county’s electric power usage be supplied by renewable energy sources by fiscal year 2015 and that all of it come from renewable energy sources by fiscal year 2020. The existing law, promoted by a few current members of Council, requires 30 percent come from renewable sources.

“We were among the first counties in the nation to adopt a renewable energy portfolio of our own,” Councilmember George Leventhal said. “At the time, in the last decade, we were actually the largest purchaser of clean energy in the eastern United States. That’s not true anymore. The recession intervened and Montgomery County is no longer in the forefront.”

“What people need to understand is Montgomery County has been deep into this game,” Councilmember Nancy Floreen said.

Other bills would give a preference to certified green businesses in contract bids with the county, create an Office of Sustainability in the Department of Environmental Protection and require the county to go with a company that provides LED lights in its next street light contract.

Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said Arlington County saw energy savings of 75 percent after installing LED street lights.

Berliner will take part in a discussion with U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and other energy leaders on Tuesday. Berliner said his goal is to garner support for local initiatives in the absence of national energy legislation.