Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
The author is Conservation Chair of the DC Sierra Club and a member of the Board of Directors of the national Sierra Club.
From an environmental standpoint, the decision between Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray is not difficult. Fenty has repeatedly disappointed with his budget, personnel, and regulatory decisions, while Gray has been the greenest Chairman ever.
Four years ago, Tony Williams was stepping down after eight years as the District’s first pro-environment Mayor. He had stood with us in our various park-protection battles (including the defense of Klingle Valley and Anacostia National Park), supported Dan Tangherlini’s visionary plans for new streetcar lines, and put Jim Sebastian in charge of the new Bicycle Office and given him an ambitious agenda.
He commissioned the Office of Planning to develop a terrific new development and preservation plan for the Anacostia, and signed several cutting-edge laws passed by the DC Council, including the Tree Bill, the hazmat train prohibition, and the Green Buildings law. He had worked with the Council to create a new Department of the Environment (DDOE).
But in September of 2006 the Sierra Club couldn’t decide whom to endorse for Mayor. Neither Linda Cropp nor Adrian Fenty had been an ally previously. Both were big fans of paving Klingle Valley, and neither seemed likely to support the ever-greener ambitions of the Council. For the first time in many cycles, we made no mayoral endorsement. Gray won our endorsement for Chairman over green Kathy Patterson, to the surprise of many. He was simply stronger on the issues.
Since his election in 2006, Fenty has done a good job of continuing Williams’ bicycle and streetcar initiatives, both of which are now more than eight years old. But by every other measure, the Mayor has been a great disappointment to environmentalists.
On Anacostia Park, within his first six months in office Fenty dismantled the Anacostia Waterfront Development Corporation, which had been charged with implementing the vision articulated in the Anacostia Framework Plan of 2003. He now wants to build 6 million square feet of commercial and residential development at Poplar Point, compared with the approximately 1 million square feet that had been negotiated during the Plan’s development. Defending Poplar Point is the Sierra Club’s top land-use priority.
Fenty put a good man, George Hawkins, at the helm of DDOE, but then repeatedly saddled the agency with bloated green-jobs programs that drove Hawkins and most of his senior staff crazy. Hawkins ultimately left for WASA (now DC Water).
Fenty also wouldn’t allow Hawkins to express support for Tommy Wells’ wildly-successful grocery bag fee bill, which passed the Council with nary a dissenting vote.
This year the Mayor instituted major funding cuts for DDOE — more than for any other agency. He then raided the supposedly sacrosanct “Tree Fund,” transferring $539,000 of “dedicated” tree revenues into the General Fund.
As we approached the culmination of our campaign to force Congress to quit burning coal in the Capitol Power Plant, we approached the Mayor with an offer to put him in front of our campaign. We considered this a no-brainer given the obvious health impacts of burning tons of coal in the middle of the District, not to mention the global warming implications. But the Mayor wouldn’t accept our offer despite the silver platter. Only weeks later, Congress caved in. Decades of coal-burning in downtown DC ended last year!
Similarly, reduced greenhouse gas emissions are the central goal of DC’s new Sustainable Energy Utility. But Fenty recently proposed to reduce its budget by 85%. He then tried to slash the DC tax credits for solar energy installations.
Then the Mayor nominated Lori Lee — his wife’s best friend — to chair the Public Service Commission, which regulates electricity production and sales. When I sat down with her she quickly revealed that she knew nothing of the subject, candidly admitting that she didn’t even know what global warming is (“something to do with the ozone layer?”) We managed to bump her down from Chair to Member.
The Mayor is also fighting us on the pending “MS4” stormwater discharge permit from EPA. We would like to see improvements in the draft permit, but generally support its rigor. The Administration is doing its best to weaken it, arguing that the suburbs should take the lead on water quality improvement.
Meanwhile, during his six years on the Council, Chairman Gray has always been a friend of the District’s environmental movement. My records show that he has been a 100% green voter for his entire tenure.
Earlier this year Vince valiantly fended off Mayor Fenty’s proposed cuts in next year’s budget for sustainable energy development, rooftop solar, as well as basic funding for DDOE. This largely unheralded work came at a steep price, because other budget priorities had to be sacrificed. Granted, he wavered for hours on streetcar funding, but ultimately made the right call. This was, after all, a very tough budget year.
Vince has supported our campaign to save Klingle Valley since the days when Adrian was holding pro-road press conferences in the Valley itself. In responding to our recent political questionnaire, he distinguished himself from Mayor Fenty in his commitment to oppose over-the-top development at Poplar Point.
Gray talks to us. He attended the Sierra Club’s Annual Dinner last Fall and gave a rousing address. This is a leader whom we can trust and fully expect to work with in the coming years.
For these and related reasons, the Sierra Club’s leadership voted unanimously (10-0) to endorse Gray.
If we want Washington to take its rightful place alongside Seattle and San Francisco as one of America’s most progressive environmental cities, we need an executive that will work hand-in-hand with our now progressive legislature. Gray has the vision; Fenty doesn’t. And Gray will end the war-between-the-branches that has held DC in second gear for four years.