A Greener County

County government has committed to zero Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2035, and ambitious but achievable target, and necessary to combat the threat of climate change. In the same spirit, we should endeavor to significantly reduce our waste stream and keep our county litter-free. 

Key Indicator I.  
Greenhouse Gas Emissions

About the Indicator: The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) issues periodic inventories of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and tracks them towards reduction goals. MWCOG is planning on the next release to reflect 2018 and then 2020.
1.  How are we doing?
Despite a noteworthy decrease in GHG emissions between 2005 and 2012, the County saw an increase in the most recent inventory in 2015.
2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
Federal, state, and local policies. Certain policies and regulations have incentivized investment in renewable energy and supported energy efficiency and conservation (e.g., rebates, tax credits, etc.). Additionally, the adopted International Green Construction Code requires buildings to reduce their carbon footprint with certain measurable standards, waste reduction in connection with the construction process, stormwater protocols and other related guidelines. The County has also adopted the International Energy Construction Code that requires tighter buildings with less energy leakage and consumption; and there are other existing programs that make County buildings greener that can now be extended beyond County buildings. There is also existing Tree Canopy legislation and a Roadside Tree law in effect.
 Technological advances. Technology has helped develop a greener grid by bringing down the cost of renewable and other cleaner energy sources. Advances in energy efficiency technology have also helped mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
 Public education. Outreach efforts from governments, civic organizations, and nonprofit groups have raised awareness of our environmental impact and have led to behavioral change.
 Land use. Effective local land use policies, including the Agriculture Reserve, County General Plan and Master Plans, and more transit-oriented dense development help to reduce emissions.
Negative Factors
Failure to include environmental considerations in growth decisions. An environmental lens should be applied in all decision making but is not currently applied. External environmental costs are not fully captured and considered.
Population growth. Growth in the County has resulted in more human activity.
 Regional sprawl and drivers’ attitude. The current car-centric lifestyle and a culture that prioritizes convenience, disposability and consumption, plus a lack of enforcement, compliance, and accountability to change behavior have resulted in more emissions from transportation.
 Sub-optimal mass transit and cheap gas. The combination of a currently unreliable transit system and inexpensive fuel make it a rational decision to drive more.
 Environmental degradation. Reductions in the County’s tree canopy makes for less carbon-consuming foliage.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?   
 1)      Achieve a Zero-waste goal.
 2)      Use true renewable energy sources.
a.      Electrify everything and exclusively use solar and wind energy.
b.      Provide County residents and businesses incentives for renewable fuel sources, reforestation, forest protection, and soil restoration.
 3)      Improve building energy benchmarking.  Adjust the County’s standard metric to cover all buildings of 10,000 square feet or greater. The current standard metric applies to buildings of 50,000 square feet or greater. Require buildings that are out of compliance with the benchmark to develop action plans.
 4)      Implement climate-friendly transportation solutions.
a.      Develop a real-time bus tracking app to improve the public’s experience using public transit and increase efficiency and reliability, and ultimately usage of this service.
b.      Ban use of fossil fuels in government vehicles.

Key Indicator II.  
Recycling Rate

About the Indicator: The rate is calculated by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) based on different waste tonnage flow data from the County’s Transfer Station and Recycling Center scale records, solid waste hauler and processor reports, business recycling reports, multi-family reports, documentation of unreported commercial recycling tonnages, and contractor reports.
 1.  How are we doing?
The County is not on track to achieve a 70% recycling rate in 2020 as originally established by Montgomery County Executive Regulation 7-12 and Council Resolution 17-566. DEP has known for some time that this goal would require revision in 2019-2020 time frame, based on current knowledge of residents’ and businesses’ recycling practices, trends and improvements in packaging, recycling technologies, processing, and markets.
2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 Existing County recycling programs, policies and enforcement. There is a strong system currently in place with curbside recycling, yard waste composting, and the acceptance of a variety of materials for recycling – and there is an existing market for these items. Policies such as the Styrofoam ban and plastic bag tax have helped reduce waste and have incentivized recycling. There is strong political will and public support that has allowed these policies to be adopted.
Education and awareness. There has been an increase in general environmental awareness, education, and peer pressure.  Non-Governmental Organizations and the County have helped disseminate information to the public.
 Zero Waste planning effort. The current effort is taking a long-term comprehensive view on waste generation in the County.
 Opportunity to halt Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) operations. The current contract for the County’s trash incinerator in Dickerson expires in 2021, which will create the opportunity to develop new creative and innovative solutions to encourage and improve recycling practices.
Negative Factors
 Need for better education, outreach and enforcement. There is insufficient public awareness of County recycling programs, regulations, and definitions of recyclables. Outreach needs to be better targeted to diverse communities.
 Current behavior. We live in a society that values convenience and consumption. There is low participation in environmental programs among the County’s commercial and multi-family properties.
 Industry trends. The privatization of waste and recycling hauling and the volatility of the recycling market (e.g. commodity prices for recyclable materials trending downward) present challenges in that private companies largely make decision based on potential profit while County Government takes into consideration other factors such as sustainability, and environmental and social impacts, etc. This can put the goals of each at odds with one another.
 Issues with the Zero Waste plan. The current plan is the continuation of incineration and dumping of toxic ash, and food waste is being burned. There is no financial incentive for reducing trash disposal by residents.
 The Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority. This privately owned organization has had control over the Division of Solid Waste for decades, and they receive County dollars to administer our program. Their vested interest is in incineration and therefore suppress any efforts to handle the County’s trash in a greener and more responsible way.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?
 1)      Modify the County’s waste management plan.  Eliminate incineration and put residuals in a safe and remote landfill, accessible by clean-energy rail haul. Give oversight of solid waste management to DEP (not a private entity with its own interests).
 2)      Support bottle and can deposit, including reusable glass bottles.
 3)      Implement a pay-as-you-throw program.  This strategy charges residents based on the amount of trash produced rather than via property taxes or fixed fees.  Make sure the fee structure is not regressive, so as not to impact low-income residents disproportionally.
 4)      Prioritize “Reduce/Refuse” to minimize waste.  Elevate the priority of the “reduce/refuse” option among the “three Rs” (reduce/refuse, reuse, recycle) to reduce waste.
 5)      Support workers to unionize in the recycling and solid waste industry.  Unionizing will provide better protection for workers and improve work quality. 

Key Indicator III.  
Resident Satisfaction with Code Enforcement

About the Indicator: The County’s Resident Satisfaction Survey asks for the public’s satisfaction with our Code Enforcement services, which handles resident complaints ranging from accumulations of solid waste to uncut high grass to sediment control violations and all manner of public nuisances and zoning violations. The 2017 survey is a representative sample of 1,075 County residents, with a margin of error of 3%. Respondents may have differing interpretations of Code Enforcement functions given the broad array of complaint types.
 1.  How are we doing?
While the most recent (2017) survey indicates improvement over prior years’ responses, there is still significant room for improvement.
 2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 Political will and systems for reporting and monitoring. Support exists for strong environmental codes (i.e., Healthy Lawns Law), and residents can rely on MC311 to report violations and CountyStat to track Service Request closure and other related measures.
 Collaboration. The County has shown a willingness to work with neighborhood groups. 
 Good existing codes and laws. Examples that improve environmental quality include the Styrofoam ban, plastic bag tax, green building codes, stormwater management, and water quality.
 Good certification programs. Examples include solar and green businesses.
Negative Factors
Complaint based approach. The current enforcement method produces uneven outcomes among income, geography, and other demographic categories.
 Issues with code enforcement staff and structure. The responsible departments need more funding dedicated to enforcement, and staff need better training and a more integrated system.  Code enforcement is operationally siloed across several departments and levels of government (e.g. stormwater management enforcement authority rests with the Department of Permitting Services via delegation from the Maryland Department of the Environment).
 Codes do not promote healthy ecosystems. The County needs enforcement on landscapes and food waste composting, and a better understanding of native plants.
 Inconsistent codes. Codes and enforcement are non-uniform among institutional, industrial, retail, single family and multi-family buildings. 
3.  What strategies do we recommended to turn the curve?
 1)      Review all County codes for improving environmental impacts.  Evaluate whether the codes are environmentally feasible and how they are applied.
 2)      Integrate the stormwater management activities of the Department of Permitting Services, Department of Environmental Protection and the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission.
 3)      Focus on equity/proactive enforcement rather than complaint-based/reactive enforcement.
 4)      Improve transparency and fairness in the Conditional Use permitting process. A Conditional Use is the grant of a specific use that is not permitted without restriction in the zone where it is located.
 5)      Penalize businesses for failure to comply with recycling requirements.

The Team

Team Captain:
BB Otero
Team Members:
Gina Angiola
Roger Berliner
John Brill
Diane Cameron
Diana Conway
Jim Driscoll
Susan Eisendrath
Ron Franks
Kit Gage

Mike Gravitz
Lauren Greenberger
Wendy Howard
Claire Iseli
Caren Madsen
Arjun Makhijari
Juan Maldonado
Veronique Marier
Danielle Meitiv
Kathy Michels
Fran Rothstein
Herb Simmons

Jack Sobel
Rick Sullivan
Sylvia Tognetti
Jeff Weisner
Adam Luecking
Karen Finn
Trevor Lobaugh
Pofen Salem
Jenni Nordin

Public feedback and questions from the CE’s Listening Sessions relating to this Priority Outcome reflect concerns about:
  • Addressing climate change, both as a health issue and a moral issue; ending the burning of coal and creating more clean energy production (more solar panels/solar farms, including in the Ag Reserve); reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution (what happens when the current contract for the County’s incinerator ends? and where does that trash go?).
  • Limiting development that is incompatible with and adversely affects rural areas and/or removes trees; protecting existing green space; accelerating the replacement of trees.
  • Expanding and/or better explaining existing zoning and building codes and processes that can positively impact emissions/energy use.
  • Managing transportation and traffic.
  • Addressing specific environmental nuisances, including: 5G small cell towers (these were also a concern under “Safe Neighborhoods” from a health/safety standpoint), gas-powered leaf blowers and plastic straws.
  • The Montgomery County Stormwater Partners Network seeks to bring attention to the issue of Clean Water and their recommended steps for improving the County’s water quality as described in their Clean Water Blueprint.
 A public survey on the transition website collected input from residents as well; Respondents conveyed the following related to this Priority Outcome:
  • The most frequently discussed topic was how the county can use policy to promote sustainability, including solar energy incentives, requirements for new developments, and enforcement of existing environmental protection regulations.
  • Respondents focused on renewable energy and specifically solar power as solutions for reducing emissions. Many cited pollution in various forms as a problem to be addressed.
  • Respondents supported accessible, reliable, and enhanced public transit options, including expansion of the Bus Rapid Transit project. Access to transportation and its role in equity was addressed by multiple respondents, with some prioritizing pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly infrastructure.
  • Waste management and plastic reduction were cited as important by respondents, many of whom supported community education to promote recycling.
  • The county’s environment impact on water and green spaces was important to respondents, some of whom identified storm water management and tree cover as priorities.
  • The role of the business community in environmental protection beyond that of individual residents was acknowledged.
  • Other needs included in multiple responses were composting and biodiversity.

Performance Index: A Greener County

Below can be found the Montgomery County Government Departmental Performance Measures that align with the County Executive's Priority to promote a greener County.