Cutting Vehicle Pollution Is Key to Curbing Climate Change

Cutting Vehicle Pollution Is Key to Curbing Climate Change

Part II

Part 2 on the Sept. 30 Climate Action Conference, organized by Supervisor James Walkinshaw. Part 1 was published in the Oct. 12 issue. 

    Driving less and driving lower-polluting vehicles are keys to reducing the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet and Fairfax County, attendees learned at the Sept. 30 Climate Action Conference, organized by Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw. 

But cutting these emissions will be uphill. Fairfax County and most suburbs were designed to be car-centric, from commuting to grocery shopping to driving kids to school.

Transportation emissions are 42 percent of all carbon emissions in the county, according to the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP). The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ inventory puts transportation’s share of Fairfax County’s greenhouse gas emissions at 43 percent. 

Another sobering fact: “Personal vehicles are the country’s largest source of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions,” reports the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Fairfax County’s Goals

Fairfax County has set two long-term goals. The first is to achieve energy carbon neutrality in local government operations, like buildings and vehicles, by 2040. The county’s operations are only three to five percent of overall greenhouse gas emissions, noted Andrea McGimsey with the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS). 

The second is the community-wide goal of carbon neutrality from all sources by 2050, with at least an 87 percent reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions compared with 2005 levels.

Katy Daley with the county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination said that reaching the 2050, community-wide, carbon neutral goal will require increasing non-motorized transportation by 2030.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called climate change a “crisis situation” and urged everyone to “be the messenger.” 

“We need the community talking to the community,” he said, “not the government talking to the community.” 

A Multi-faceted Problem

Speakers explored topics like energy audits, home energy efficiency, solar power and clean energy tax incentives.

Fairfax County’s community climate action plan seeks “to reduce emissions from private vehicles, as well as traffic congestion, by expanding public and private mobility options that can decrease private vehicle use,” it says. “The strategy relies on significant improvements in biking, walking and transit infrastructure that makes a non-car dependent lifestyle a viable, convenient and safe alternative to driving.

Walkinshaw highlighted the county’s first all-electric trash truck which produces zero emissions and eliminates fuel costs. The county is piloting eight battery-electric Fairfax Connector buses. Congressman Gerry Connolly, a former Board of Supervisors member and chair, touted bicycle trails that he expanded. He voted for major bills in the House of Representatives to incentivize less-polluting energy, he said. 

Public transit can reduce emissions by 45 percent compared to cars, Kate Mattice, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s Executive Director, offered, but most public transit options are organized for commuting. 

Electric vehicle (EV) advocates argue that EVs pollute less than traditional gas-powered, internal combustion engines. “All-electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) produce no tailpipe emissions when operating in all-electric mode,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.

Fairfax County has nearly 200 publicly available EV charging stations, according to County flyers. Jeffrey Jacobs with the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington recommended “Charge Up Fairfax,” which helps homeowner and condominium associations access EV charging. His organization’s materials show electric car costs ranging from $26,500 to $200,000 and the average U.S. gasoline car at $48,000.

Kevin Romance, Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, said that biking does not just have to be a “singular exercise of going to Metro.” His volunteer organization supported the Board of Supervisors’ adoption of a bicycle master plan.

McGimsey maintained, “The faith community can have an outsized influence.” FACS promotes EV charging for churches, synagogues and mosques and urges faith communities to advocate for walking, bicycling and public transit systems. She views climate change as a “moral challenge” and urged people to persuade elected officials to enact stronger policies. 

Reducing greenhouse gases from vehicles is challenging. Fairfax County is a “very car-dependent county,” Daley offered.


Transit options,

Tax credits,

Clean energy,