Regional Leaders Respond to Climate Change Threat

By HALLIE C. FALQUET, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments voted unanimously Wednesday to pass a regional climate change initiative that will unite efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in the National Capital Region.

"I'm not a scientist," said David Robertson, council executive director, "but when 90 percent of scientists assembled say it's a problem, then it's time to stand up and take notice."

Maryland faces the largest impact from climate change within the Virginia-Washington-Maryland region, because of the amount of land adjoining the Chesapeake Bay, said Stuart Freudberg, director of the council's Department of Environmental Programs.

"The whole ecology of the bay could be changed in the next 50 to 100 years, he said.

Experts say that climate change melts the polar ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, resulting in the contamination of the Bay with salt - a threat to the marine and plant life that thrive there and contribute to Maryland's culture and economy.

Population growth is another phenomena that will effect environmental issues down the road, and is the reason the initiative was brought to the table now.

Arlington County leaders predict an influx of more than 2 million people to the National Capital Region over the next 25 years, which presents "a huge challenge" to the environment, Freudberg said.

The forward-looking vote coincidentally fell on the council's 50th anniversary, a "fitting time to take action when looking back at the last 50 years, to look ahead at the next 50," Robertson said.

The initiative will not result in additional staff or funds, but rather combines current, similar committee efforts.

Once formed, the committee will make recommendations, including a reduction goal for the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the region.

The effort follows on the heels of the touted "greenest" Maryland General Assembly in recent memory, which by its end on Monday adopted environmentally friendly legislation including a clean cars bill echoing California's strict emission standards.

Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner, one of the council's Maryland members, praised his county's environmental work.

"Montgomery County is very invested in this issue," said the energy lawyer and environmental activist before citing his county's "green building" program as just one idea that will be shared with other regional leaders through the initiative passed.

Freudberg agreed that "copycat methods and peer pressure methods are incredibly effective."

"I don't think anybody thought we could clean up the Potomac, and we have," he said, extolling the joint effort involved.

Berliner said, "The initiative reinforces the commitment among all the metropolitan jurisdictions to share with each other the fruits of our efforts.

"It's a friendly competition between jurisdictions to see who can be the greenest," he said, "and that's a competition I want to promote."

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