Release date: December 14, 2012 (Editor: Rick Nunno)
Push to Stop Burning Coal at the Capitol Power Plant
On Monday, December 17, at 5:30 p.m., the DC Dept. of the Environment is holding a hearing on the Architect of the Capitol's request for a new, less rigorous, air pollution permit for the Capitol Power Plant at the edge of Capitol Hill. This is the right time to be heard on the air pollution that affects your family’s health.
You should know that:
The Capitol Power Plant Burns Coal
In 2009, the Plant's operator -- the Architect of the Capitol -- stopped burning coal and switched to natural gas only. The elimination of coal from fuel mix was the result of a public pressure campaign. But the decision was reversed in 2011, placing coal back into the Plant's boilers. Recently, the Defense Logistics Agency solicited bids for 40 million pounds of coal for delivery to the Plant in early 2013. This averages to more than 100,000 pounds of coal burned per day.
Air Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants are Harmful to Health
Coal pollution causes 13,000 premature deaths per year, and 200,000 asthma attacks, nationwide. This has a lot to with the sulfur dioxide, soot, and carbon monoxide that is produced when coal is burned. Natural gas produces five to 2,500 times less of these "conventional" air pollutants. When burning coal, the Capitol Power Plant also emits a suite of highly toxic non-conventional pollutants, including mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxins, formaldehyde and radioactive elements (including radium and uranium). These pollutants are not emitted from the Plant when it burns only natural gas.
- We're Campaigning to "Get the Coal Out". The Architect of the Capitol could easily -- and instantly -- convert the Plant back to "natural gas only" power production. The choice of coal as a boiler fuel is driven by Members of Congress who represent coal-producing states. Join Our Campaign. Only citizens, working together, can "get the coal out" and thereby win. We, along with Mayor Gray and Council member Tommy Wells, can win this campaign with sufficient community support. We need people to appear at hearings, reach out to neighbors, and serve as leaders.
- Attend the public hearing -- Monday, Dec. 17; 5:30 p.m.; 1200 First St. NE. This is the right time to be heard on the air pollution that affects your family's health. For more info: http://green.dc.gov/release/capitol-power-plant-proposed-air-quality-permits. We, along with Mayor Gray and Councilmember Wells, can win this campaign with sufficient community support. We need people to appear at hearings, reach out to neighbors,and serve as leaders. Please contact Irv Sheffey (SE DC), firstname.lastname@example.org, 575-1469, or Jim Dougherty (SW DC), email@example.com, 488-1140.
McMillan Park Planning
This past fall, the
DC Sierra Club took a position regarding the development planning for McMillan Park, a 25-acre green space and decommissioned water treatment plant in northwest DC. A
proposal for developing that land has been under review by the DC government's
Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), and on September 24, Jim Dougherty,
the Chapter's Conservation Chair, submitted a letter to the HPRB, asking them
to "reject the currently proposed master plan" because it contains far too
little contiguous public park space. The
letter stated that "the present design plans do too little to preserve the
park-like characteristics that dominate the present space," and that "a more
balanced plan for the McMillan Park site would devote half or more of the
surface to contiguous park and park-like use."
Background: McMillan Park (which includes McMillan Reservoir) is bound on the north by Michigan Avenue NW, on the east by North Capitol Street, on the south by Channing and Bryant Streets and on the west by Fifth Street NW. The land was originally developed in 1905 as a water filtration plant for the city, cleverly hidden under McMillan Park, and using an innovative and environmentally friendly system of passing the water through sand (rather than chemical treatment). The site has a number of large concrete towers that once held the sand and underground cells filled with sand through which the water was filtered. Most of what is visible above ground constitutes a "green roof" of about three feet of top soil covered with grass and trees. President Taft declared the site a National Park in 1911. The original architects (including Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and other luminaries) designed the space to be multi-functional and open to the public, and it functioned as a park until the federal government closed it during World War II for security reasons. The plant ceased operation in 1986 and remains closed to the public.
The Proposal: The current proposal, submitted by a company called Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), under a special contract to the city, includes dense residential apartments (1200 residential units with buildings up to 10 stories) and commercial space (including a 125,000 square foot shopping center and hotel/conference center) and underground parking, with very little green space, most of it just tree boxes. In addition, the plan would destroy most of the historic vaulted underground cells that define the Park's sense of place.
Political Positions/Bureaucratic Processes. Opposition has been mounting against the current plan from several groups – these include Friends of McMillan Park, a group of community volunteers who support sustainable development for the Park, advocate preserving the existing green space along with sustainable development and smart growth, and have been leading the effort to defeat the proposal. In May 2012, Councilmember Phil Mendelson publicly opposed the VMP proposal before the HPRB. In addition, the Bloomingdale Civic Association, the Pleasant Plains Civic Association, Howard University, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B (representing the Reservoir and adjacent neighborhoods), Stronghold Civic Association, and the National Association for Olmsted Parks have all outright (and in most cases, unanimously) rejected the VMP plan. ANC5C (representing the filtration site and adjacent neighborhoods in Northeast DC) voted in October to support the VMP submission, which resulted in the Bloomingdale Civic Association adopting a Resolution of No Confidence in ANC5C regarding the Park. Neighborhoods most affected by the proposal cite potential problems with flooding (caused by over-development of the land without adequate drainage systems), traffic congestion, lack of repeatedly requested park space, and failure to preserve the above- and below-ground historic resources of the park and monument to engineering innovation.
A Better Plan: In July,
the HPRB met to review the VMP proposal, and an alternative
proposal was presented by a firm called Collage City Studio, on behalf of
McMillan Park Committee and Friends of McMillan Park. That plan would preserve a significant portion
of the underground sand filtration vaults, and would accommodate an urban farm
on top of part of the green roof above the vaults. The vaults would be repurposed as a
bazaar-style shopping venue (accommodating farmers markets, artisans,
musicians, etc.) and community recreation center, and one of the vaults would
be preserved to demonstrate the original sand filtration process. The plan would also expose the below-ground
creek – which would be part of a storm-water management system. The alternative plan includes 1.5 million square feet of
mixed use and residential development while preserving the site’s historic
core, with hopes that the site would attain landmark designation in the
National Register of Historic Places.
The next HPRB
meeting addressing this issue is scheduled for Thursday, December 20, at 9 a.m. at
441 4th St. NW
room 221-south. Agendas are subject to change, so call HPRB at
202-442-7600 or go to http://planning.dc.gov/DC/Planning/Historic+Preservation
for updates including videostreaming instructions. Come out and express your support for
preserving this national monument and park and to prevent commercial forces
from destroying it.
Results of DC 2012 Elections (Bob Summersgill)
Most Candidates we endorsed won, giving us the strongest D.C. Council in History on environmental issues! Here are the election results along with a summary of our endorsements.
- Phil Mendelson, Chairman. Mr. Mendelson was elected to serve out the final two years of the Council Chairman’s term left vacant by the resignation of Kwame Brown. The D.C. Sierra Club gave Mr. Mendelson an early endorsement, as we have previously done. He has been our champion on the Council. He wrote the original tree protection legislation and he has introduced an amendment this term to strengthen the law to better protect our trees. We are very pleased to have such strong environmental leadership at the helm of the Council. There will be a special election in the Spring of 2013 to fill his At-Large Council seat. The D.C. Sierra Club will evaluate candidates in that race once the election is certified by the Board of Elections and candidates announce their intentions to run.
- David Grosso, At-Large. Mr. Grosso won one of the two At-Large seats on the D.C. Council, ousting incumbent Michael A. Brown. The D.C. Sierra Club endorsed Mr. Grosso after he demonstrated to us that he shares our values, as well as our vision of making the District the greenest city in the world. Mr. Grosso agreed with the D.C. Sierra Club on every issue on our questionnaire. Mr. Grosso's campaign specifically mentioned recycling efforts, renewable energy, preserving the city's tree canopy, and expanding urban gardening. We are pleased to have another member of the Council who is concerned about the environment. We hope that our endorsement and efforts helped propel him to victory.
- Ann Wilcox, At-Large. Ms. Wilcox was endorsed as a long-shot candidate for Council At-large. Unfortunately she didn’t win. She has a strong environmental record and agrees with the D.C. Sierra Club on every issue. She provided a substantial amount of legal support for the McKibben-Keystone XL pipeline action at the White House. We hope that she will learn from the experience and run again with a stronger campaign.
- The D.C. Sierra Club endorsed three incumbents in the primaries and in the general election: Jack Evans(Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), and Yvette Alexander (Ward 7). We also endorsed Kenyan McDuffie, who won the Ward 5 special election by a wide margin and now serves on the D.C. Council.
- With the elections this year, we now have the best Council in D.C.’s history on environmental issues. We will be working with the Council on a range of environmental issues and legislation. For a more details on the candidates and our endorsement process, please see the News section of our website.
Community Renewable Energy Act (the Solar Bill) - an update (Amy Weinfurter)
As the awareness of solar energy's benefits grows,
photovoltaic panels are cropping up on homes, offices, and community facilities
across the country. In Washington, D.C.
500 solar projects have been installed, as residents seek to lower their
energy bills and reduce their carbon footprint.
To broaden the benefits of solar energy even further, the Washington, D.C. Chapter
of the Sierra Club has teamed up with several local partners to make solar energy
accessible to more Washington
The District currently limits solar energy generation – and
its financial benefits – to home or building owners who are able to install
photovoltaic systems on their property.
Through net metering, a system already adopted by the Public
Service Commission and implemented by PEPCO, these utility customers are
eligible to receive a credit on their monthly utility bills for the electricity
generated by PV solar panels. Net metering allows energy to flow back and forth
onto the grid -- onto the grid when panels produce more electricity than the building
consumes, and from the grid when the building consumes more energy than the
solar panels produces. On their monthly bills, customer/generators pay only the
cost of electricity
consumed minus the cost of electricity produced. This system ensures that residents always
have access to the electricity they need, even on cloudy days. It also helps the rest of the grid take
advantage of any surplus solar energy, lowering the carbon footprint of the
The solar net metering regulations in the District currently
- Most apartment renters and condominium or coop
- Home owners in shady areas;
- Low-income residents who do not qualify for the
financing to install photovoltaic systems on their property; and
- Businesses that do not own their own
While some multi-family apartment buildings use solar energy
to generate electricity for areas served by common electrical meters (such as
hallways, laundry rooms, and lobbies), tenants cannot use solar energy and net
metering for their own apartments' electricity.
These restrictions limit the economic and environmental benefits of
To address these challenges, the Washington D.C. Chapter of
the Sierra Club partnered with DC Solar
United Neighborhoods and VOTE Solar to draft
Renewables Energy Act (CREA). With
these organizations, our chapter has lobbied the D.C. Council and coordinated
with a variety of local energy stakeholders to advance the legislation. CREA enacts a mechanism known as virtual net metering to bring renewable
energy access to more DC residents. The
Act authorizes the creation of community renewable energy facilities. These facilities would connect to the
electricity grid, and could be owned and operated by individuals, solar
companies, other energy companies, the utility, community-based organizations,
or other entities.
Through virtual net metering, energy consumers would be able
to buy a portion of renewable energy from any community renewable energy
facility, and receive a deduction on their utility bill, corresponding to the
amount of renewable energy their portion puts back onto the grid. In other words, CREA would enable Pepco
customers to subscribe to a community solar project anywhere in the city, even
if their property is not located in a sunny spot. They could lower their energy bill and
support renewable energy, even if they lack the authority or financial
resources to install photovoltaic systems on their homes or office
buildings. The Act would also enable
multiple residents of an apartment building to share an on-site photovoltaic
Councilmembers Yvette Alexander, from Ward Seven, and Mary
Cheh, from Ward Three, introduced CREA to the DC Council on March 6, 2012. The Committee on Public Services and Consumer
Affairs held a public hearing regarding the bill on June 14, 2012, and convened
a working group to discuss and finalize the bill's language. The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club has been an
active participant in the working group. The working group is close to finalizing some technical details in the
The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club and the other members of
the DC Community Solar coalition will continue to lobby the Council and press
for the bill's passage, which will hopefully occur in January 2013. To help with their efforts, or to learn more
about CREA, please contact Nicole Sitaraman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other DC Chapter Energy Committee activities:
- Exploring possible ways to become involved with the 21st Century Grid Coalition - a movement led by the DC Environmental Network (and others) to require that the DC Public Service Commission study how DC can transition to renewable energy sources for its electricity in the electric grid.
- Working with the DC government and the Sustainable DC initiative to develop a Clean Alternative Technologies Standard (CATS). The plan would shift reliance from coal-generated power sources to more renewable sources using a timed phase-out to reduce electricity driven carbon emissions by 60%. Currently, less than 10% of DC's electricity comes from renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal,...). Using smarter energy sources would reduce our carbon footprint, but also reduce the amount of toxic chemicals (e.g., sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides...) that we breath in our air.
Casey Tree Planting
Chapter members working with Casey
Trees in Ft. Totten area
On Saturday, December 1, DC Chapter members helped Casey Trees (a
DC-based nonprofit dedicated to restoring, enhancing and protecting the
tree canopy in the nation's capital) with one of its tree planting
events. This one took place in Rock Creek Cemetery, near Fort Totten.
For information on future tree plantings, visit the Casey Trees website
Canvassing in Capitol Hill
On Sunday, December 9, DC Chapter volunteers Jim Dougherty and Namandje Bumpus distribute flyers to residents in Capitol Hill to notify them about a Public Hearing on Burning Coal in the Capitol Hill Power plant.
Chapter Holiday Party
About 60 people came out for the DC Sierra Club's holiday party on December 10 at Busboys and Poets (we'd need a wide angle lens to show them all).
Upcoming Polar Bear Plunge
Can you find the DC Chapter
member in this pic of last year's
Polar Bear Plunge?
As you know, our climate is getting weirder and more
unpredictable with each passing year. From super-storm Sandy to the "derecho"
storm last summer, climate change is speaking to us – no, screaming at us. In response, Sierra Club members are doing
something that also might involve a little screaming: running into the icy cold
waters of the Potomac River in January. And,
we're hoping you'll join us.
We know it sounds crazy, but hear us out. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network
(CCAN) does this Plunge each year as their biggest fundraiser and most
invigorating grassroots event. Hundreds of people, ages 8 to 80, take a
30-second dip in the name of climate protection (some just run in up to their
knees, others take the full plunge). Before the plunge, each participant asks
their friends and family to sponsor them by making a donation – similar to
other charity walks and bike rides. It's a fun and easy way to make a big
difference for our planet.
This year, the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club is
co-sponsoring the Plunge – meaning that once we hit $1000 as a team, half of
what we raise as a team will come back to the DC Chapter to support our work
too. It's a win-win and we’re really excited for the opportunity! But, in order
to be successful, we need you to join our team, recruit sponsors and take the
plunge. Will you join TEAM SIERRA CLUB?
Signing up is easy and recruiting sponsors is as simple as
sending a few emails. Running into the water takes courage, but if NASA climate
scientist Dr. James Hansen can do it, so can we! And, it’s for a great cause.
Here's how to sign up:
Go to http://www.keepwintercold.org,
click the green REGISTER button toward the top and follow the easy step-by-step
instructions to register. Be sure to join TEAM SIERRA CLUB when you get
to that part of the process. (Editing your page is really easy, so don’t feel like
it has to be perfect)
- Set your
goal. CCAN is requesting that everyone set a minimum goal of $350 (symbolic
of the 350 parts per million of CO2 that scientists say is the upper limit our
climate can handle to remain stable). You can set the goal that’s right for you
– feel free to aim high!
sponsors. You’ll receive sample emails and all you have to do is send a few
out to people you know, asking them to make a donation via your personal
fundraising page that you create when you register.
That's it! Many of us never thought we'd voluntarily run
into any body of water in January, but this is really important and we’re
excited to brave the icy waters for a few seconds to raise money to fight
climate change. We hope you'll join us!
Other Upcoming Events/Activities
Following is a selection of upcoming chapter events. For complete listings and details, visit our calendar
Tuesday, January 8, 2013, Transportation Committee meeting, 6:30-8:30 p.m., 50 F St. NW Suite 800. Contact Ryan Crowley (email@example.com) for details.
Sautrday, January 26, 2013, 11 a.m., Keep Winter Cold Polar Bear Plunge, the beach at National Harbor (141 National Harbor Blvd, Oxon Hill, MD). Sponsored by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Go to keepwintercold.org to register.
Tuesday, January 22, Chapter Board meeting, 50 F St. NW Suite 800, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Harriet's restaurant, 436 11th St. NW DC.
DC Chapter Board Elections
In the next week or so, you'll be receiving your Chapter Board ballot in the mail. When you get it, please take a moment to complete and return it. We have some great volunteers who have stepped forward to help lead our chapter, and we count on your votes to determine who sits on the DC Chapter Board.
Looking for a hike or other outdoor adventure?
Click here to learn more about regional Sierra Club offerings.
Donate to the D.C. Chapter
We need your support to help us succeed in our important work to protect our precious environment. Please donate today!
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