Following the Board of Supervisors vote to approve the county’s wide-ranging new Environment and Energy Work Plan during their July 19 Environmental Summit, climate action groups are pushing the county to set specific goals.
“I think it’s a great effort, but there’s nothing really concrete, in my mind,” said Loudoun Climate Project President Natalie Pien. “There aren’t any specific greenhouse gas reduction goals. There aren’t any commitments to preserving habitats and ecosystems when developers come in.”
The board’s new policy framework is in many instances a plan to plan, laying out proposals to develop new programs or actions but without specific climate targets. Pien leads a coalition of Loudoun nonprofits and environmental groups pushing supervisors to adopt a climate resolution that lays out specific targets, such as going carbon-free by 2035. No supervisor has yet agreed to sponsor that resolution, however.
Chris Tandy, who formerly led 350 Loudoun which joined with Sustainable Loudoun to create the Loudoun Climate Project, also serves on the county’s Environmental Commission that helped create the work plan. He also pointed to the hours of volunteer work that went into creating that plan, and said it’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s a good time in Loudoun in the sense that environmental concerns are a bit in the spotlight lately, and it seems like the public’s paying attention, the board’s paying attention, and the press is paying attention,” he said. “… It’s good incremental progress, I think. It doesn’t solve climate change in one fell swoop.”
But Pien and Tandy also still see ways to push the county toward aggressive, measurable climate goals. Loudoun is moving toward community choice aggregation, which would allow the county to buy power directly from electricity generators instead of from utility companies, and there are new sustainability policies in the county comprehensive plan that they hope can translate into concrete requirements in the Zoning Ordinance.
“From my angle, I’m going to be looking at equity concerns,” Tandy said. “Climate change is an equity issue. Globally, it’s going to affect people of lower income, who in tons of instances contributed the least to the problem.”
“The whole purpose of the Environmental Commission and the Environmental Summit is to improve what Loudoun County does as it relates to energy and environment, and our main tool, the Zoning Ordinance, there’s nothing in it. So that’s critical,” Pien said.
Tandy also said community choice aggregation could be a good chance to switch to energy providers that are closer to net zero emissions.
And they said they will be looking in particular at data centers, the energy hungry-industry that Dominion Energy President Bob Blue said Monday accounts for 20% of the company’s Virginia market.
The Loudoun Climate Project has also begun an air quality monitoring program.
“We’ve got lots of local sources of particulate pollution—the Panda Power plant. Every data center has a diesel backup generator, and they are maintained by short runs weekly, longer runs monthly, and every one of those runs, they’re burning fuel, they’re emitting particulates. And then our congested roadways,” Tandy said. “So we’ve got lots of sources of particulate matter pollution.”
And she said with the county’s Environment and Energy Work Plan approved, the climate resolution may get another shot at life.
“I don’t want to abandon it yet because it represents so many Loudoun residents and so many nonprofits,” she said.
This article was updated Aug. 16 at 3:32 p.m. to correct a misattributed quote and title.