Sierra Club
 

Release date: March 13, 2013 (Editor: Rick Nunno)

Big Turnout for the Forward on Climate Rally

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(by Jane Huff, newsletter editor of the Montgomery County Group of the Maryland Sierra Club Chapter)

On Sunday, February 17, nearly 40,000 people rallied on the Mall in Washington, DC for the Forward on Climate Rally. Said to be the largest demonstration on climate in U.S. history, this rally was intended to remind President Barack Obama that the time to deal with the climate crisis is now. A crowd of Sierra Club members, including enthusiastic groups from Maryland, Virginia and DC, joined participants from all over the country and from many other environmental organizations, including NRDC, CCAN, Citizens Climate Lobby, Center for Biological Diversity, Green America, the League of Conservation Voters, members of indigenous tribes from Canada and students from numerous colleges.

Despite the cold and biting wind the crowd listened enthusiastically from noon to 1 p.m. to speeches asking for a reduction in fossil fuel use, particularly shale oil, and support for renewable energy. We need to turn the corner on climate change. That means rejecting the toxic Keystone XL pipeline, saying no to dangerous drilling in our pristine Arctic Ocean and banning fracking on public lands and safeguarding water and air during fracking. A number of the Maryland participants held up toy windmills that were part of the Offshore Wind demonstration a few days earlier in Annapolis. After the speeches, the crowd marched along Constitution Avenue and around the White House. Although the President was on vacation, we hope he got the message.

Subsequently, President Obama updated his Facebook status to read, "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it's too late." We couldn't agree more.

 

Ride the 82 Streetcar from Downtown DC to Maryland - Take a Moment to Step into the Past

Below is a link to a video recorded in the late 1950s of the old DC Transit 82 streetcar running from 5th and G St. (near what is now WMATA headquarters) and passing through Eckington, Woodridge, Mt. Rainier, all the way to College Park. Notice how lovely and quiet DC was with fewer cars and public transportation.  The DC streetcar system closed in 1962. Some of the routes shown in this video were closed in 1958.  Maybe seeing this beautiful remnant from the past will encourage DC residents to demand that the city move forward on its streetcar initiative.

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Potomac Polar Bear Plunge - A Big Success

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DC Sierra Clubbers (left to right): Paul Coraggio, Kirk Longstein, Philip Goo, Brenna Muller, Craig Segall, Andrew Burton, Michelle Cohen - all survived the plunge!

"Team Sierra Club" raised $2,122 for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN)'s 8th annual Polar Bear Plunge on January 27, held at the National Harbor.  Half of the total amount raised benefits the DC Chapter and the other half benefits CCAN.  

 

DC Chapter Joins with VA Chapter in Letter Writing Campaign

On February 5, DC Chapter volunteers met with members of Sierra Club's Virginia Chapter to learn about the ongoing efforts among VA volunteers to submit letters to the editor, or LTEs, in response to climate and environmental articles published in various local and national newspapers.  Self labeled "the Truth Squad," the VA volunteers have been submitting about 20 LTEs per month and have gotten dozens of them published in the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and several local newspapers. We join our brethren in Virginia in the effort to counter false and misleading statements made in public venues such, and set the facts right. If you're interested in getting involved with this effort, contact Rick Nunno (ricknunno@gmail.com).  

 

DC's Zoning Code May Get an Environmentally-Friendly Facelift

(by Ryan Crowley, Chair, DC Sierra Club Transportation Committee)

What do wonky terms like parking minimums, accessory dwelling units, and Green Area Ratios have anything to do with the DC Sierra Club's mission to advocate for a cleaner, greener, healthier Nation’s Capital? Plenty, it turns out. The chapter's transportation committee has been following the overhaul of the city's zoning code - a big, confusing, brick of a document that lays out rules for real estate developers, city planners, and anyone else seeking to change the District's landscape. 

Over the last few years, the District's Office of Planning has been working to craft an update to the outdated, archaic, automobile-focused zoning code, with the intent to move the city towards a future of improved health, environmental sustainability, and a variety of transportation options. It’s cut out the parts that are stuck in the first half of the 20th century, such as guidelines for telegram operators and penny arcades, and added cutting-edge provisions for environmentally-friendly innovations, like green roofs and roof-top solar panels.  Below is a brief rundown of some of the highlights and what the chapter has recommended to the city:

  • Affordable, diverse housing options: Ensuring access to affordable housing is a vital goal, especially in a city experiencing historic population growth and a heightened demand for housing. According to one estimate, the District will need over 122,000 new housing units by 2030 (see http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/16470/washingtons-economic-future-depends-on-more-housing/). The zoning update seeks to address this problem by permitting residences with extra space to make such dwellings available for rent. Encouraging such "accessory dwelling units" like a basement apartment or converted garage, would diversify the housing stock, give options to homeowners with surplus space, and relieve the need for more rental housing while reducing the need to develop and build additional housing units.
  • Update car and bicycle parking requirements: The code would also lift mandates for on-site parking for new buildings. This would encourage more transit use, walking, cycling in high-density areas; reduce automobile traffic; reduce costs associated with parking construction, and free up space that would otherwise be developed/designated for parking stock. It would make housing more affordable, as each structured parking space adds about $63,000 to the cost of a home and each parking space increases it by 12.5%. The chapter strongly supports the elimination of so-called “parking minimums” throughout the District for all new and rehabilitated buildings. At the very least, we believe parking minimums should be eliminated from downtown areas, residential buildings with fewer than 10 units, and commercial and mixed-use zones in close proximity to frequent bus or rail service. The zoning code also establishes requirements for long- and short-term bicycle parking as well as shower and changing areas in certain commercial buildings. With more people commuting to work by bike, and Capital Bikeshare stations springing up all over the city, cycling in the District is exploding, and the zoning code needs to evolve to meet the needs of bikers old and new.
  • Fresh food around the corner: The new zoning code would improve access to corner stores – such as small grocery stores – by lifting the restrictions on certain types of retail in residential areas far away from commercial strips. This provision could reduce shopping trips by car, strengthen access to fresh food, and reduce unnecessary development in areas overladen with shops. The chapter has supported restrictions on the kind of corner stores permitted, such as dry cleaners that may emit polluting chemicals.   
  • Green roofs, solar panels and more: To help reduce air pollution and stormwater runoff, and improve the environmental richness of the urban landscape, certain new and/or renovated buildings would be required to meet an environmental sustainability measure called a "green area ratio." This can be achieved by including green roofs, grassy spaces, stormwater treatment, more landscaping and tree cover and other environmental elements in the site. The Sierra Club strongly supports the GAR requirement and recommends that the zoning update include enforcement mechanisms to ensure that this important provision is implemented.

As the District faces ongoing renewal and growth, the DC chapter believes that the zoning code must evolve to meet the needs of lifelong residents and new arrivals, the young and the old, and those living east of the river and west of the river. The zoning code will be finalized in the coming months, so if you’d like to help push for an environmentally-friendly and sustainable Washington, I encourage you to attend one of the transportation committee meetings, held the first Tuesday of every month at the Sierra Club offices at 50 F St. NW, 8th Floor.



McMillan Park - An Update

(by Hugh Youngblood, DC Chapter member)

The District's McMillan Sand Filtration Site, part of McMillan Park, which was featured in an article in the December 2012 Capital Seirran (McMIllan Park Planning), was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February 2013. Although this designation constitutes real progress towards the preservation of this unique place in the District, McMillan now faces new pressures.  DC Water will soon begin using some of the underground sand filtration cells at McMillan as part of a temporary storm water infrastructure program to abate recurring local sewage overflows.  In addition, the City and its development partners have begun presenting a revised commercial development proposal for the historic landmark Sand Filtration Site. Locally-organized educational tours of the Site are still prohibited by the District government. 

Even as local Sierra Club members and others concerned about McMillan Park celebrate the National Register victory, they are watching carefully new storm water infrastructure developments planned for the Sand Filtration Site. Since December 2012, the Site has become the target of efforts by the DC Water and Sewer Authority to avert the recurring catastrophic sewage backflow events experienced by the Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park neighborhoods just south of the Site. After the streets and basements of these neighborhoods repeatedly filled with a dangerous mixture of raw sewage and storm water during torrential rains last summer when storm surges exceeded the capacity of the combined sewer and storm water system, McMillan activists approached DC Water, the independent agency that provides sewer and water services to the District, to ask if the huge, idle water treatment cells located beneath the Site could be placed into service for storm water retention. DC Water was impressed with the possibility of diverting storm water (NOT sewage) into the McMillan's underground cells during major storms and releasing that water back into the combined sewer system thereafter. DC Water presented a conceptual design proposal to the District Council during a November 15  Council hearing on the catastrophic water infrastructure failures. The Council then instructed DC Water to present a specific implementation plan within 30 days.  On a cold December 7 , Mayor Gray broke ground at the Site on the DC Water sewage backflow abatement plan, which has two phases.  

Phase one would identify two suitable underground cells at the Sand Filtration Site in which to store diverted storm water during major storms for release after the storm. That phase has already begun with minimal damage to the Site.  Phase two of the program would request permission to demolish two underground cells in the southern area of the Site to use as a staging area for drilling a massive combined sewer tunnel under 1st St. NW, a longer-term solution to greatly increase the capacity of the current combined sewer system as part of DC Water's Clean Rivers project and to serve as temporary stormwater storage until the new system is completed (projected for 2022). On March 28, DC Water will present to the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board its request to raze the two cells located in the Site’s southwest corner. Some in the activist community recommend that DC Water stage the tunnel drilling in the southeast corner of the Site, where underground cells are in an irreparable state rather than destroying the cells in the southwest corner, which are in rather good shape and have potential for preservation and creative reuse.  (See http://www.scribd.com/doc/128304335/DC-Water-2013-02-20-DIVP-MAG-Presentation for a presentation of the DC Water sewage overflow abatement plans for the Site). 

While DC Water's plan to avert local water infrastructure inadequacies has been given priority over the commercial development of the Site proposed by Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) as described in the Capital Sierran article, VMP has very recently revised its development proposal to integrate the planned DC Water uses. (see http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/mcmillans_planned_park_may_start_constuction_in_2016/6736 for details of the new VMP plans).  The new VMP proposal includes a 6.6-acre park in the southernmost sector of the Site (the sector in which DC Water would stage tunnel drilling operations).  But as a result of the proposed 6.6-acre park, the rest of the site development plan now includes denser and taller features. Proposed buildings ranging from 75' to 130' in height along North Capitol Street would completely block the historic views of Howard University, the Washington Monument, and other prominent landmarks enjoyed by the local community. Only the challenge of designing around the DC Water plans forced VMP to increase its planned park space from 2.6 acres to 6.6 acres. At the same time, the revised plans eliminate (1) the community center that activists fought hard for and (2) housing set aside specifically for senior citizens.  Seniors would now have to compete with all low-income residents for any affordable units included in the final plan. Originally VMP claimed that a secret "exclusive rights agreement" between VMP and the District required certain minimum rates of financial return from the proposed development. The District government has yet to respond to a FOIA request submitted for this agreement in October, 2012.

McMillan Park Committee, Friends of McMillan Park, and other concerned activists had provided periodic educational tours of the Sand Filtration Site to interested persons until the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), which manages the Site, prohibited the tours late last summer, citing safety concerns.  Noting that the tours have all scrupulously adhered to city safety and legal guidelines, neighborhood activists have pressed the case, offered remediation to accommodate any specific safety concerns, and requested permission to resume the tours. DMPED has not relented and has yet to produce the report that Director of Real Estate, Jeff Miller, said would be generated to evaluate the safety of the Site. Hundreds of people who have participated in the tours in recent years have learned a lot about the unknown history of the Park and its amazing slow-sand filtration water system, which helped battle typhoid and cholera epidemics caused by dirty drinking water here in the 19th century. These popular public tours have opened many eyes to the preservation and reuse potential of this gem among Washington's historical parks. 

Several persons in the community will testify at the March 28 Historic Preservation Review Board hearing on the proposed DC Water and VMP plans for the Site, and at the scheduled April 5 hearing by the Mayor's Agent concerning the DC Water proposal to raze two underground cells. National Register listing for McMillan Park occurred after DC Water and VMP submitted revised plans for the Site and will undoubtedly affect these two proposed uses.  Please consider making your voice heard on the DC Water and VMP proposals at the relevant hearings, and consider asking Mayor Gray why DMPED continues to prohibit the park tours. Also, visit friendsofmcmillan.org for regular updates.

 

DC Chapter Energy Committee activities  

(by Larry martin, Energy Committee co-chair)

The Chapter's Energy Committee, co-chaired by Nicole Sitaraman and Larry Martin continues its work to promote energy conservation and renewable energy in DC. The energy efficiency outreach program, led by Judith Barrow, is in the process of forming partnerships with the DC SEU (Sustainable Energy Utility) and the Koshland Museum (sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences) to enhance its educational outreach to DC citizens. We will work with the DC SEU to make “Energy Efficiency 101” presentations in all 8 Wards the District, and collaborate with Koshland on the development of interactive educational techniques to communicate about climate change.  The Koshland Museum announced a $2,000 competitive award to the Chapter's outreach and education project. 

The Committee has also taken the lead to reform the District's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), the law requiring businesses who sell electricity to District residents to obtain certain percentages of their power from renewable sources.  The RPS currently permits these energy vendors to use energy credits from waste wood and "black liquor" to meet the renewable obligation. These materials are waste from paper mills that have been used to provide fuel to mill operations for decades, and will be used as such regardless of whether or not they receive "renewable energy credits." In DC, however, vendors compete for wind energy credits, which account for more than half of the credits vendors purchase to meet their RPS requirements. Sierra Club's position is that the black liquor credits should be removed from the RPS to fulfill the original intent of the RPS law, so that income from the credits will be directed to new renewable energy projects, wind in particular.  With the recent passage of Maryland's Offshore Wind Act (HIGH5 to MD Chapter!), energy credits to wind development will become especially advantageous to DC, potentially funding nearby projects. The financial impact on rate-payers has been estimated to be negligible. The Energy Committee plans to facilitate a community information workshop on the RPS in the near future.

In addition to revising the RPS, the Energy Committee has been working in a coalition of activists promoting the "Clean Alternative Technology Standard" (CATS), which will, like the RPS, use market signals to promote the use of fuels that are of lower carbon intensity.  In recent meetings with DC Department of the Environment, Committee co-chair Larry Martin asserted that adoption of the CATS would ratchet down carbon emissions from DC's overall electricity fuel mix by 60%, over 660 lbs per megawatt-hour (MWh) consumed.  It would be implemented at a rate of 6% reduction per year beginning in 2015.  The Mayor announced this initiative as one of the strategies included in the Sustainable DC Plan, which was released in February.

Additionally, the Energy Committee is a part of an alliance called the Grid 2.0 Working Group has been established to explore grid resiliency issues in DC. The group was formed by Jigar Shah, founder of Sun Edison and Board Member of The Carbon War Room. In addition to the Sierra Club DC, key partners in this working group include the DC Environmental Network, DC Solar United Neighborhoods and DC Chapter of the AARP. The Grid 2.0 group is in the process of drafting a resolution for the DC Council, instructing the Public Service Commission to procure a study for the design of a reliable smart electric grid, capable of powering the District of Columbia through the 21st century. This resolution calls for the study of the feasibility of designing and building a grid that includes more local power generation and energy efficiency, new capabilities such as Microgrids and battery storage and integrates them with features such as Supervisory Controls and Data Acquisition (SCADA).

Finally, the Energy Committee continues to steer the Community Renewables Energy Act which is pending in the DC Council and is expected to be passed into law this Spring.  

A Re-Vamped Recycling Committee

(by Larry Martin)

The DC Chapter's Recycling Committee has been recharged and renamed the Zero Waste Committee. Hana Heineken was elected as Chair in January. The Committee will continue to advance recycling in DC, and will also take on the broader goals of promoting a reduction of solid waste by residents and businesses, as well as challenging inappropriate disposal technologies. 

In recent remarks before the DC Council’s Committee on the Environment, Public Works, and Transportation at an oversight roundtable on recycling and waste disposal, Hana represented the Chapter and testified on the current status of recycling in the District as well as the Mayor's Sustainable DC Vision to achieve zero waste by 2032.  Here is an excerpt from her testimony: "Nearly one million tons of waste is collected from the District each year, but the diversion rate [the amount recycled vs. placed in landfills], as measured in FY 2010, averaged a mere 22%. This is nowhere near the 45% recycling rate required by DC law, and lags far behind other major cities in the country, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, and Seattle. DC is lacking not only in the infrastructure to divert waste, but also in public awareness of how and what to recycle. …we are encouraged by the Mayor’s commitment to achieving zero waste by 2032. The critical question is how to achieve this goal. The Sierra Club advocates a zero waste hierarchy in the order of reduction, reuse, and recycling. Landfilling, incineration, or thermal treatment for energy recovery should be used only for non-recyclables and as a last resort… Landfilling or burning valuable resources that can be recycled and composted is not consistent with the concept of zero waste. It is therefore concerning that the Mayor's [Sustainable DC] Vision document includes a study of the feasibility of waste-to-energy and waste conversion technologies as a quick action.  Instead of waste-to-energy, the District needs to invest in reducing the waste we produce and increasing the rate of recycling and composting. This requires more education, stronger enforcement, and better infrastructure. The District should invest in a citywide composting program, facilitate the separation of waste at the household and commercial level, and prohibit certain non-recyclable and non-biodegradable waste such as Styrofoam. Recycling … not only protects our environment, but also reduces our expenditures of tax dollars, and also has the potential to create jobs. It is a win-win."

The Zero Waste Committee also presented to the DC Environmental Network (DCEN) and met with DC Department of the Environment (DDOE) Acting Director Keith Anderson to recommend that the Mayor's "Incineration Study" be reoriented toward a comprehensive zero-waste project to reduce, reuse and recycle.  The Department of Public Works reports that the study will be revised to examine a "life-cycle analysis" of municipal solid waste in DC.

Hana will be representing the Chapter in the upcoming Zero Waste Week organized by Northern California Recycling Association (NCRA) and the Zero Waste International Alliance, to be held from March 17-21 in California.  Hana will also be presenting on zero waste at a DCEN-sponsored debrief on the Sustainable DC Plan, to be held on March 28  in DC (see DC Chapter website for details).

Other activities related to the Energy and Zero Waste Committees include: participation in the Capitol Power Plant Working Group, in which community activists are strategizing around getting coal removed and greenhouse gas emissions reduced at the Capitol Power Plant in Southeast DC (see article from December 2012 Capital Sierran); and organizing around our advocacy to redirect a DDOE study concerning "waste conversion," (there is some question as to what that refers to).  The Committee plans to draft a letter to the Mayor and other stakeholders, as well as a fact sheet on emissions and environmental justice issues related to trash incineration.  

 

DC Environmental Film Fest 

The 21st annual DC Environmental Film Festival will be held from March 12 to 24, presenting 190 films, including 110 Washington, DC, US and world premiers at 75 partnering venues across our nation's capital. The Environmental Film Festival Web site, http://dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org/, is now live with the complete Festival schedule. 

VA Chapter Climate Legacy Town Hall Meeting

On Wednesday, March 13, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m., the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter will host  a Climate Legacy Town Hall in Alexandria featuring renowned clean energy expert Dr. Willett Kempton ( University of Delaware Professor). His new research shows we can get 99.9% of our energy with only solar and wind at the same costs we are paying today. Moving beyond fossil fuels -- the primary cause of climate disruption -- is not only achievable, but practical.  Space is limited and we expect this to be a packed event-- RSVP now to guarantee a spot!

This Climate Legacy Town Hall is part of a nationwide effort to accept President Obama's invitation for a national conversation about climate. The President in his inaugural speech defined our potential legacy to stop climate disruption by offering a clear solution - a path toward clean energy. Join us to hear how this climate legacy of clean energy is within reach!  Find out more about this study from Ivy Main's blog at PowerForThePeopleVA.  Location: MetroStage Theater, 1201 N Royal St. Alexandria, VA, RSVP or Information: Phillip Ellis, phillip.ellis@sierraclub.org, 571.970.0275

Other Upcoming Events/Activities

Following is a selection of upcoming chapter events. For complete listings and details, visit our calendar   

Monday, March 18, 6:30 - 8:30, DC Chapter Member Meeting, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m., West End Library, 1101 24th St. NW (3 blocks from Foggy Bottom metro).  Learn about the work that the Chapter is doing and how to get involved.  Contact Brenna Muller, 202-548-4581.

Wednesday, March 20, March mailing, 6:00 - 8:30, Sierra Club office 50 F St. NW (near Union Station metro) Suite 800.

Tuesday, March 26, Chapter Board meeting, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m., 50 F St. NW Suite 800, Harriet's restaurant, 436 11th St. NW DC. contact kathleen Robertson (kmr510@netzero.com) for details.

Wednesday, March 27, Energy Committee Meeting
,
6:30 - 8 p.m., Sierra Club office 50 F St NW Suite 800. Contact Nicole Sitaraman (nicolejenene@gmail.com) for details.

Tuesday, April 2, Transportation Committee Meeting, 7-8 p.m., Sierra Club office 50 F St. NW Suite 800.  Contact Ryan Crowley (ryancrowley@gmail.com) for details.

April 16 - 18, Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference:  http://www.greenjobsconference.org/
 
Looking for a hike or other outdoor adventure? 

Interested in exploring the natural beauty, locally available and natural resources of Washington DC?  The Sierra Club Washington, DC Chapter is planning events that will provide socializing and adventure across DC's back yard!  Please contact Kirk Longstein (klongstein@gmail.com) if you're interested in getting off the couch and exploring the places that we work so passionately to conserve.  In addition to the initial list of events below, check the Sierra Club DC Chapter website with updates to activities.  

Friday, April 12, Certified Outings Leaders Training (time and location TBD)

May 21, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m.
, May 22, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m.
, or May 23, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m., National Arboretum- Full Moon Hike

This is a four-mile-long, mildly strenuous hike through moonlit gardens, meadows, and woods. Your guide will share specially chosen points of interest and seasonal highlights. The two-hour walk over hilly and uneven terrain is a brisk hike, not a garden tour so wear good walking shoes and dress for the weather. Not recommended for children under 16. No pets, please. Spring hikes book quickly; register soon to reserve your spot. Fee: $22 ($18 FONA)

In addition, click here to learn more about regional Sierra Club offerings.

 

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