Sierra Club
 

 

Release date: December 14, 2012 (Editor: Rick Nunno)

Push to Stop Burning Coal at the Capitol Power Plant

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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.

Hearing notice

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), irv.sheffey@sierraclub.org, 575-1469, or Jim Dougherty (SW DC), jim.dougherty@sierraclub.org, 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."

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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 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. 

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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)

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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. alone, over 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 residents. 

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 entire region.  

The solar net metering regulations in the District currently exclude:

  • Most apartment renters and condominium or coop apartment owners;
  • 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 buildings. 

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 solar energy. 

To address these challenges, the Washington D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club partnered with DC Solar United Neighborhoods and VOTE Solar to draft the Community 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 system. 

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 legislation. 

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 nicolejenene@gmail.com

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.  

Other Events:

Casey Tree Planting 

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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 at www.caseytrees.org.

Canvassing in Capitol Hill

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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 

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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

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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:

  1. Register. 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)
  2. 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!
  3. Recruit 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 (ryancrowley@gmail.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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To stay up to date on the latest chapter news, check out our website. We're also on Facebook and Twitter!

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