The Bulletin

D.C. regional planning group touts carbon reductions

By: - October 13, 2022 12:03 am


A regional planning group did what the critics said it couldn’t: reach carbon reduction targets for 2020.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments said Wednesday the region it represents had met its goal of reducing net carbon emissions by 20% from 2005 levels.

“This is a huge accomplishment,” said Gretchen Goldman, an assistant director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who joined in on the meeting.

The Metropolitan Washington COG is composed of elected officials from Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. Virginia members are the cities of Falls Church, Alexandria, Fairfax, Manassas and Manassas Park and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun.

In 2008 the group set out to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050, with targets along the way. 

Those targets included reducing carbon emissions to 2005 levels by 2012, which was done. The 2020 goal was next, followed by a 2030 goal of reducing levels by 50%.

The data is drawn from sources including  the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air, building energy use and car volume on the roads.

“It is a race to go as low as we can,” said COG Board of Directors Chairman Christian Dorsey.

The 2020 goal was reached primarily through reductions in emissions from buildings and transportation, explained Maia Davis, a senior environmental planner for the council.

Despite an increase in buildings’ overall energy consumption between 2005 and 2020, the incorporation of renewables into the electric grid decreased average carbon emissions from more than 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour to 650 or less by 2020, Davis said. That was coupled with less natural gas consumption, an increase in rooftop solar use and greater building efficiency.

Transportation emission reductions were achieved despite a 20% increase in population between 2005 and 2020. 

Fewer vehicle miles traveled, less solo commuting and an increase in teleworking, along with hybrid and electric vehicle ownership growing from 72,000 in 2012 to 179,000 in 2020 also made an impact, Davis said.

Davis also urged support for electric vehicle ownership through a robust charging system. Last month, Virginia officials shared their plans for how they want to spend $100 million in federal funds for EV infrastructure.

While Davis acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to emissions decreases, she said many emissions linked to businesses were transferred to homes. 

In total, building and transportation still accounted for 90% of emissions in 2020, Davis said, “so that’s where we’re going to focus our attention.” 

Future work will focus on more substantial zero-carbon efforts in the form of local planning and policy implementation, climate risk and vulnerability assessments and working with DMV Climate Partners, a carbon reduction group that works with communities across the region.

Prince William County has begun developing sustainability and greenhouse gas emission reduction plans, Chairwoman Ann Wheeler said. 

Loudoun County is working on an energy plan and has established an environmental commission, said Loudoun Supervisor Juli Briskman. But she also voiced concern over energy consumption by data centers, which have been booming in the region

Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross pointed out earlier criticism that the council’s emissions reductions goals had been too ambitious.

“But we met them,” Gross said.


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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics.