CAAV’s Climate Voter Series: City Council Platforms

As part of our continuing Climate Voter promotion series, CAAV presents the following posts about the five candidates for Harrisonburg City Council’s Democratic Caucus closing May 16, 2020. Each post provides a short description of each candidate followed by their responses to a brief questionnaire CAAV prepared to better understand their positions on local climate change-related issues.

Please note, this series is intended to inform Harrisonburg residents about the platforms of all candidates and is not intended to be an endorsement of any particular candidate.

Click on a candidate’s name below to find their answers to the CAAV questions:

Richard Baugh

Luciano Benjamin

Laura Dent

Charles Hendricks

Deanna Reed



The Citizen and the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement hosted a Virtual Town Hall with the 2020 Harrisonburg City Council Candidates on April 28. Find the YouTube video here.

Richard Baugh

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Richard Baugh (D) is an attorney and current member of the Harrisonburg Bar Association who is running for Harrisonburg City Council. He is running for re-election, and is currently the longest serving Council member. According to the Baugh for Council Facebook Page, his campaign centers around Planned Development, Quality of Life, and Community-First. Richard is a founding member of the Harrisonburg Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee (EPSAC) which prompted the city to develop and adopt the Harrisonburg Environmental Action Plan in 2019. He is supportive of the Harrisonburg 50 by 25 Campaign and has asked City staff to review its implementation.

See his responses to CAAV’s Questionnaire below:

1. Do you support the 50×25 campaign?

Yes.

2. How would you implement the 3 goals of the 50×25 campaign?

As requested from ongoing discussions with a number of constituents, I have asked City Staff to review the goals and let me know if they see any complications to Council endorsing the campaign. This review was already secondary to the annual budget process, and is now also behind addressing Covid-19 related issues. However, I discussed this with the City Attorney earlier this week, and we are hopeful we can keep this review moving and completed by the end of May. My intention is to bring this before Council once the review is complete.

As far as implementation, regarding Goal 1 I know there has been a great deal of review of the existing supply contract between HEC and Dominion Power. I am aware of an argument that HEC, especially if directed by Council, can take some unilateral action to force things in the desired direction. While I have a law degree and am not entirely unfamiliar with this area of the law, I also know from experience that people who have reached their own conclusion on this may not just take my word for it that things are unlikely to be that simple. My view is that what people are reviewing includes longstanding boilerplate language in lengthy agreements that were written with different circumstances and goals in mind than what we are looking at in the current world. In short, the more confidence anyone proclaims as to predictions on the legal issues, regardless of what those predictions are, the less confidence I have in the predictions. That is not to say I do not support pursuing the goal, because I do. In fact, it is another area where I have initiated current review by City Staff.

Goal 2 is more in the bailiwick of our Public Works Department. However, this may be less about near term staff review and more about how it fits in with processes already in place. On January 14 of this year, the City adopted an Environmental Action Plan. I won’t begin to repeat all of the relevant parts here. For anyone not already familiar with it, it’s available online and should make interesting reading for those who care about in these issues, especially if they are not already familiar with it. Since further comment on Goal 2 dovetails with the part of my response to Question 3 regarding implementation issues, I won’t repeat that here.

Goal 3 is likely to require efforts by both Public Works and HEC. Again, this is addressed generally in Phase 1 of the Environmental Action Plan and will be addressed in the Phase 2 process I outline in response to the next question. I will say that my sense is if there is an area where there may be low hanging fruit, it is this one. Details on specific recommendations are still to be determined, but this is an area it looks like our community has largely ignored. While this could definitely run into Covid-19 generated fiscal challenges, there is also the potential of low or no cost strategies to communicate and support assistance to City residents.

This may be the time to clarify that in a Covid-19 world any actions of any kind requiring new money are going to be a major challenge. The circumstances that will make this not be true are a quicker than expected economic recovery, or relevant federal relief. Anyone who disputes this is either ignoring the facts or has information I deeply hope they will share with me.

3. What would you do to increase or facilitate the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings?

I refer again to the Plan adopted by Council on January 14 of this year, the formal name of which is Phase I of the Environmental Action Plan. Focus Area 1 of the Plan is “Buildings and Energy.” Goals 3 and 4 of the Plan speak directly to this question. These issues have already been identified as priorities for the City and have been affirmed through a thorough process that reflects approval and buy in by EPSAC (the City’s Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee), Staff and Council.

So, if there is a Phase 1, is there a Phase 2? Absolutely. Phase 2 will focus on
implementation, both as to strategies and developing specific policies. Absent a pandemic, more forward movement on Phase 2 would have already occurred. I will say this. My personal view is that this is less about what flashy concept I (or any other candidate) can articulate in this moment, and more about recognizing we have a process in place that is utilizing some of the best minds in the City on these subjects to make reality out of things Council has already endorsed. This most definitely includes “facilitating the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings.”

4. How would you prioritize city and state resources for addressing environmental justice concerns, specifically energy efficiency for low income housing?

Let me first say that everything I say below is based on the assumption that funding would be from local dollars. If we’re talking about grant funding, that’s a different world. Our Staff is constantly on the lookout for opportunities in this area. Moreover, in the event there eventually is any federal Covid-19 relief, based on past examples it would not be surprising if it came in the form of grant opportunities, rather than general aid. In short, for these types of opportunities where grant funding becomes available, assume the City will pursue them.

Otherwise, if I understand the question correctly, it illustrates a tension I see that people are often unaware of in posing fiscal questions. My assumption is that this is driven by folks analogizing to things they know, which in this case is how they approach their own budgets, and what they know of how the Feds do it.

I have come to the view that what is most important about understanding local government finance is the ways that it is NOT like our personal or the federal budget. Framing the question as being about priorities is a federal mindset. That’s what they do. They fund large categories, often very generally. So, knowing how much is spent on education, versus defense, versus social programs, etc., and observing changes over time, can be very informative.

Local government finance is not like this at all. The vast majority of what we fund are core services that we don’t have the option of not providing, from education to infrastructure to mandated social services. Moreover, something people often miss by comparing us to their personal budgets, is that we aren’t just required to provide these services. We are usually mandated heavily as to how we provide them, which can drastically limit things like flexibility and efforts to economize.

As a result, our budget focus is not on weighing priorities among large general categories. Ours is on identifying the anticipated cost of providing specific services we are required to or otherwise intend to provide, and then finding the money to make this happen. As a result, we often get interesting inquiries from constituents about our priorities, when all they have done is look at the budget and say, “You increased spending for ______________, and decreased it for ______________, and I don’t like that.” Another favorite is, “Why does your budget only spend __% on ______________, while [someplace else] spends more?” In fact, the words are usually stronger than, “I don’t like that.” Things like basic intelligence and integrity are sometimes called into question.

A good example came up in one of the Great Recession years. I spoke with an irate
constituent, who could not believe that we had significantly increased the Parks and Rec budget, while decreasing it for the Fire Department. He felt a little better when I was able to communicate that the Parks and Rec increase was largely due to it being the first full year operations at the Simms Rec Center were included, and that the Fire Department decrease was simply due to senior staff retiring and being replaced by people who were paid less.

So, where would promoting energy efficiency for low income housing fit into traditional notions of core services? It’s not really obvious where it does, but probably somewhere in Public Works as a best guess. Again, the feds fund large categories of things to do what it perceives to be good stuff. Same with the state. Local government, not so much. That does not mean we would ignore this issue. We like doing good stuff. We are not, however, traditionally structured to be deep pockets for things that get much beyond core services.

And to stay on my soapbox a bit longer, I perceive increasing public interest, if not
demands, for non-core services from local government, and see this as a reflection of decades of leadership dysfunction, if not outright abdication, at the federal and state level. There are definitely good things that come from people being engaged at the local level, be it in issues such as the ones raised here or otherwise. However, I find myself thinking more and more that if I was observing from Mars, I would wonder why you have all these localities scrambling to address these issues on their own. Their resources are limited, and their scope does not move beyond borders that are close by. Moreover, it seems like what they’re good at, in fact what they’re designed to do, is more like implementation of policy set at higher levels. So, we end up with activism at the local level being a major driver for policy, when what comes from the higher levels is nothing or things that make the situation worse. Which we will support and continue to do, especially when leadership and direction from above is lacking. But it really is a less than optimal way of addressing these issues.

Heck, might as well keep the rant going. I am on a body called the LGAC, which is the
Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. This committee is exactly what it sounds like. It is made up of local government officials from the 7 jurisdictions that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Its function is to advise the Executive Council (the 6 Governors and Mayor of the 7 member jurisdictions) on Bay policy with an emphasis on the impact on local governments. Among its activities, it produces annual recommendations to the Executive Council. So, what is a major running theme of that group? Someone noticed that going back 20 years something that was on the list most every year, usually as the first item, was about the failure to appreciate just how hard it is on local governments to be given increased mandates to do more stuff (often really good stuff), when it never seems to come with any funding.

I bring this up simply to point out that local governments catch it from the top down and the bottom up, in the sense that it is convenient for people to believe we can always handle one more thing. Especially if it does good and doesn’t cost THAT much money. I do see the bottom up pressure as less of an issue, since that is at least coming from the people who will be paying for the increased expense. I also believe many if not most in our community are generally willing to take on some additional financial burden to promote things they support, such as environmental justice concerns. However, over the near term anything that requires new revenue is going to be on hold. Even in the rosy scenario, we will be spending the next few months coming to grips with how to keep our books balanced (which we are required by law to do) and core services functioning in light of major reductions in revenue.

On the specific question, in short there are 2 ways to do it. Top down would be that Council votes to do something along these lines. Of course, that runs into the challenge, especially now, that you would need to directly articulate how you find the funds to do it. Bottom up would be that a City Department finds a way to get funding for something like this into what becomes an approved budget.

5. What do you think about recycling?

How much time do you have?

First, I have nothing but good things to say about how Staff has stepped up to deal with our solid waste issues. I assume most everyone reading this knows the recent history. For a number of years, Harrisonburg was able to utilize a single stream system. One effect of this was to replace a long standing voluntary curbside recycling program.

Of course, what was a limited market for many recyclable plastics became literally no
market. With no advance notice, we were told by the company that was taking our solid waste that they simply were not going to service us anymore. We literally had to redesign our solid waste management on the fly. I can say with confidence that if there was one aspect of this where Council spoke clearly to Staff, it was that however we moved forward, we wanted the recycling issue to remain at the forefront.

That has led to our recycling program in its current form. Is it everything we desire? No. Does it reflect prioritized attention and constant openness and flexibility regarding program improvements? It does.

An interesting aside is that recent data shows we have reached the point where our
recycling levels now exceed what we had during the old voluntary curbside program. This reflects very well on our community. It also probably reflects some changes in the community. But it brings to mind some interesting push back I received when we stopped curbside recycling. I cannot attribute this to anything other than the virtuousness felt by many of us who did curbside recycling. I literally had people come to me asking us to reinstate it, and insisting that everything was going into a landfill or was otherwise not as advertised with the single stream program. The fact is, when that program was functioning, it was functioning very well. Our recycling numbers were well ahead of anything we ever achieved with the curbside program, or where we are now.

Which brings me to my soapbox moment for this question. This is a pretty serious issue, particularly as it pertains to plastics. We clipped along for years, especially when we put things in a recycling bin, confidant that the plastic fairies were taking it all away to a good place where it got “recycled.” How exactly did it get recycled? For most of us, the answer was, “I don’t know, it just gets recycled.”

What a lot of it actually did was end up in China, because that was the market where
someone was willing to pay at least a few pennies for it. There aren’t many of us who would have thought it was OK for it to end up in a Chinese landfill, the Pacific Ocean, or maybe being burned over there where any near-term effects of the fumes would be their problem.

So, when the scab got ripped off of this, many of us discovered that our assumptions about what happened to recycled plastics were wrong and had been wrong for years. Why? Because mythology notwithstanding, under the current market structure it is still incredibly cheap to produce the next plastic package. By comparison, it is expensive (absent some still small-scale creative uses that have been devised in some areas) to repurpose an existing piece of plastic, if it is even possible to find any use for it.

To me the depth of this challenge is illustrated by something a lot of us know, the Green New Deal. What is the standard critique of the Green New Deal? OK, it’s not like I agree with it, but you hear things like too aspirational, not practical, and definitely that it’s too expensive to implement. My point is this. In what’s held up as a significant progressive statement on where we need to go, what does it say about plastics and other solid waste management challenges? Other than what you might infer generally, nothing.

Which is interesting, because it may not be rocket science. What would you do from a policy standpoint if you have too much of something undesirable being produced (driven by low costs of production), and too little of countervailing efforts? Wouldn’t you tax the one (and couldn’t you do worse than just point out that this production is imposing costs on the larger society where it needs to stop getting a free ride), subsidize the other, or maybe do both?

Anyway, I find it interesting that the only place I’ve found where this even gets discussed a little bit is with the LGAC group. Local governments down in the trenches know this is an issue, even if others continue to ignore it. Of course, local governments in Virginia do not have the authority to tax manufacturers or the resources to give significant subsidies to alternatives.

In the meantime, we will continue our commitment to doing what we can, and trying to improve whenever we can, in the current environment.

6. Is there anything Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions, the largest
sector of climate change emissions in Virginia and the United States?

I again refer to our Environmental Action Plan. Focus Area 4, Sustainable Transportation, speaks to this in some detail. And to recap, the adoption of Phase 1 of the Plan affirms the City’s commitment to this goal. Phase 2 will be the deep dive into specific actions and strategies to implement the Phase 1 goals and values. So, I will again suggest that what is more important to the City is supporting a process that many have worked hard to put into place, than to focus on anything flashy or passionate that I (or any other candidate) might articulate in the moment.

I will conclude with a final point that flows from this but has not been mentioned. The
City’s current draft budget for 2020-2021 is essentially the 2019-2020 budget, with a short list of changes we know will happen or that reflect particular priorities, and subject to what will almost certainly be significant Covid-19 driven revisions as our actual revenue shortfalls becomes clearer.

I bring this up because the very short list of additions includes funding for a greenhouse
gas assessment recommended by the Environmental Action Plan. One of the things we keep running into in reviewing the best thinking in these areas is that while it’s great to promote this or that innovative idea, if you haven’t taken inventory of your community, you are in some sense flying blind. Sure, most anything you promote that looks like it will do some good will probably do some good. But if we want to be effective, which seems especially important if we are going to be challenged to come up with new money in the next or even next few budget cycles, we can use all the insight we can get into what we are actually accomplishing.

While I very much hope funding for the study will survive the budget challenges of the
coming year, it’s worth noting that things which have been identified as priorities tend to stay that way. So, even if timing turns out to be an issue, the fact is Council is poised to affirm that getting this study done is a priority over numerous other things the City could be doing.

A pdf version of Richard Baugh’s answers to the CAAV questions can be found here. 

Laura Dent

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Laura Dent (D) is a technical writer, adjunct professor, and free-lance entrepreneur who is running for Harrisonburg City Council. According to the Laura for City Council website, her campaign centers around Health, the Economy, and the Environment. If elected, Laura wants to improve the city’s commitment to renewable energy, conservation, and earth-friendly waste management practices. She supports the Harrisonburg 50 by 25 campaign and is on the record from the Harrisonburg Citizen about supporting steps toward Harrisonburg adopting 30% renewable energy by 2023.

See her responses to CAAV’s Questionnaire below:

1) Do you support the 50×25 campaign?

Yes, definitely. After our personal health, climate change is the most crucial issue for government representatives to address.

2) How would implement the 3 goals of 50×25 campaign?

If I’m elected to City Council, I would propose a mandate to require HEC to provide 30% renewable energy by 2022, to keep pace with Gov. Northam’s Executive Order 43 for state institutions.

Once that agreement is in place, City Council would increase the percentage incrementally to reach 50% by 2025, and beyond.

3) What would you do to increase or facilitate the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings?

Since the construction of the High School has been postponed, now is the time to address renewable energy. I would propose actions to include solar panels and possibly onsite wind turbines (if an assessment proves them feasible) as part of the project.

I would propose mandates for all new City buildings to include renewable energy – solar panels, or wind turbines if site-appropriate.

4) How would you prioritize city and state resources for addressing environmental justice concerns, specifically energy efficiency for low income housing?

In a time of scarce resources after the Covid-19 shutdown, priorities for energy efficiency for low-income housing would need to be weighed in comparison to other projects. Given current funding constraints, I would seek federal and state sources to supplement City resources, as well as explore options for trust funds or other incremental city funding, as well as on-bill recovery programs for low-income families.

5) What do you think about recycling?

I think recycling is great! It’s unfortunate that 1) our curbside recycling was stopped, and 2) the single-stream process failed spectacularly, when a) the promised technology never was implemented and b) the global market for recyclables collapsed.
The City responded well enough for the time being with the drop-off recycling at the landfill – but even that has had to be curtailed, with the mobile recycling unit filling in for now.

Given all these constraints, I think we need to investigate more comprehensive locally-based initiatives.
1. Reduce! Encourage reducing plastic waste, such as imposing fees for plastic bags. Unfortunately we can’t ban single-used plastics because of the Dillon Rule (that should be repealed; if it is, we have more freedom – then we could ban plastic straws!).
2. Reuse – the landfill swap program for reusable items is helpful, when it’s available. Encourage reusable bags and containers; difficult now with the coronavirus precautions
3. Recycle – with the global markets for recyclables unavailable, consider local projects such as remanufacturing recyclable goods into usable products. Some examples have included: park benches, decking boards … Local entrepreneurs could be funded to explore feasible technologies and markets.
In short, there’s more that we can do locally, given the constraints globally.

6) Is there anything Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions, the largest sector of climate change emissions in VA and the United States?

Certainly. We can require that all new city transportation be electric or at least hybrid vehicles. We can expand transportation routes to better meet the needs of working people (currently geared toward students).

We have learned through the coronavirus shutdown that many of us can work from home. We should encourage companies and institutions to continue to allow teleworking to lesson commuting traffic.

Summary

I would be happy to work with EPSAC, CAAV, and other local experts in climate change technology and activism to identify further opportunities to address the needs of our future on the planet.

Thank you very much for the opportunity, and for your ongoing actions.

Laura Dent
Candidate for City Council

A pdf version of Laura Dent’s answers to the CAAV questions is here.

Deanna Reed

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Deanna Reed (D) is the program director at a local nonprofit focused on youth empowerment who is running for Harrisonburg City Council. She is running for re-election, and currently serves as Mayor. According to the Deanna Reed for Harrisonburg City Council website, her campaign centers around Education, Opportunity, and Community. Mayor Reed has been a proponent for Harrisonburg’s Environmental Action Plan and was the featured speaker at Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s Earth Day Celebration at Purcell Park in 2018.

See her responses to CAAV’s Questionnaire below the list of questions:

1) Do you support the 50×25 campaign?

2) How would you implement the 3 goals of the 50×25 campaign?

3) What would you do to increase or facilitate the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings?

4) How would you prioritize city and state resources for addressing environmental justice concerns, specifically energy efficiency for low income housing?

5) What do you think about recycling?

6) Is there anything Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions, the largest sector of climate change emissions in VA and the United States?

I’m happy to think that Virginia is already moving in this direction with Governor Northam’s Executive Order in September to reduce Virginia’s fossil fuels to zero by 2050. There are certainly actions that the city can consider to adopt more energy-efficient measures, and I believe it is important to listen to the climate experts and to more carefully explore initiatives like the 50×25 Campaign that are advocating for an improved environment. I know that any efforts to combat global warming are going to require massive buy in from city residents and that means that it is important that we include those residents in the decision making process. A collaborative model, where we ask citizens to participate alongside experts in looking for solutions, will work much better than a top-down heavy-handed approach.

I think it is important to find cost-effective ways to introduce renewable energy sources. Bluestone Elementary School is a wonderful example incorporating renewable energy to create a strong return on our investment. Our city staff and school board work extremely hard looking for these solutions and I fully support their dedication to creating the best balance of affordable and renewable energy. This is another area where further collaboration with community groups and climate experts will benefit the city, and I believe that we can collaborate with other area governments and the state government to explore best practices and interventions. These solutions do not exist in isolation, so our approach to environmental issues will require that we work in concert with others.

One of the things I believe the 50×25 Campaign is asking for is a culture shift in the way we consider our city’s energy consumption and how we envision our future. To do this, we need to continually work to educate one another about climate change and its impacts on our community, and to look for the relationships between climate and other key issues the city is facing. For example, we are increasing bus schedules and routes to offer more public transportation options for residents. Improving bus usage can decrease our reliance on cars and cut greenhouse emissions, just as our efforts to improve our bike routes can also help in this area. The tie in between energy efficiency and affordable housing is another great example of how the issues are interrelated. As we seek solutions for affordable housing, we know that reducing utility bills for low-income residents is key. All these issues tie together in a way that motivates and excites me as the Mayor of this City. I’m grateful for the work of our community advocacy groups to move these conversations forward.

Charles Hendricks

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Charles Hendricks (D) is an architect and small business owner who is running for Harrisonburg City Council. According to the Hendricks for Harrisonburg website, his campaign centers around Sustainability, Business, and Community. He has been working to combat climate change, promote sustainability, and increase building efficiency for nearly 20 years. Charles has been a guest speaker at several of CAAV’s past community events. He supports the 50 by 25 campaign as a first step for Harrisonburg “to become a model city for sustainability in the Commonwealth.”

See his responses to CAAV’s Questionnaire below:

1. Do you support the 50×25 campaign?

I have been working to combat climate change, promote sustainability, and increase building efficiency for the last 20 years. The 50 x 25 campaign is achievable, timely, and is needed.

Over the last 4 years I have worked with Renew Rocktown, Harrisonburg Electric Commission, and on my own to provide more than 100 free energy audits for homes, businesses, and churches in the area. I have empowered these residents to reduce their carbon footprint, increase the comfort of their building, and save money. This work is incredibly important to the 50 x 25 goals. I have also designed buildings that are LEED Certified, EarthCraft Certified, Home Performance with Energy Star Certified, Net-Zero, and Carbon Neutral for clients across the Commonwealth. I teach classes on how to make buildings more energy efficient for community groups, schools, Universities, and even the Department of Energy. This is a passion for me, and I believe the 50 x 25 campaign is a great first step for the City of Harrisonburg becoming a model city for sustainability in the Commonwealth.

2. How would you implement the 3 goals of the 50×25 campaign?

    • Adopt a solar and wind energy requirement of 50% by 2025 and 100% by 2040.
    • Improve energy efficiency by 25% in municipal and school operations by 2025.
    • Incentivize energy efficiency programs to reduce energy poverty among city residents.

These are very achievable goals for Harrisonburg.

Solar Photovoltaic is less expensive than grid energy (retail prices) and we should spread that message to every homeowner in Harrisonburg including through and by HEC. If you have equity in your home, have an unshaded south facing roof – Solar PV is your best possible financial and environmental investment. This also holds true for commercial buildings which often have enough roof space to install large solar arrays and can take advantage of advanced depreciation providing resiliency for their business and an incredible return on investment. Solar in Harrisonburg is a great solution. Wind is a challenge here in the Valley.

Adding the word sustainability to HEC’s mandate to provide reliable and affordable power to Harrisonburg could be the first step towards the 50 x 25 goals.

I have worked hard over the last 20 years to understand building science. I know how to improve buildings using affordable solutions. We need to have a comprehensive understanding of current building by building energy usage or EUI. As a result of this information and having the EUI (Energy Use Intensity) of each building we can create a plan of action to find efficiencies in all our public buildings and implement solutions to achieve those efficiencies. We can also enhance our community understanding of building science through our monthly newsletter, social media campaign, and direct mailings. If users of buildings understand their impacts on the energy use, the energy use can be reduced through behavioral changes.

It is critical that the city establish an energy performance standard for every new building being built by the city, every existing city owned building, and offer incentives for every building being built by the private sector in the city. This performance standard should set out as a goal to achieve at least 50 x 25. We have potential to move faster and achieve higher goals as we make Harrisonburg a more resilient city. This will take coordination with HEC, but that is certainly possible, and the goals are attainable.

We should also encourage expansion and awareness of HEC’s energy audit program and incorporate a weatherization program with it. There are many changes that can be easily made in affordable housing that will create more comfort while reducing energy usage.

Solar is the least expensive holistically, but there are other improvements that are easy and fast to implement.

3. What would you do to increase or facilitate the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings?

I have promoted Solar PV through my work as an architect and have designed many projects that incorporate solar PV. I have given lectures across the country on building science, sustainability, and zero energy buildings to increase awareness and share my knowledge. If elected to Harrisonburg City Council I will advocate for an energy performance standard in the city for all public buildings that includes implementation of Solar PV.

I would support the City Council creating a renewable energy requirement for HEC to meet by 2025. City Council should encourage the school board to set a minimum standard for all new buildings to be solar ready. Further I believe the City should set an example by adding Solar PV to public buildings to offset taxpayer dollars used to operate these structures. Setting a renewable energy goal for all city operations is a strategy that I believe would make a huge difference such as 30% renewable energy by 2022.

4. How would you prioritize city and state resources for addressing environmental justice concerns, specifically energy efficiency for low income housing?

I believe it is possible to provide not only free energy audits through HEC, but also weatherization solutions through the city for low income housing. Weatherization efforts could be carried out through HEC’s Energy Share program which currently only helps individuals pay their winter electricity bills. It does not address the root causes of energy poverty, energy inefficient homes and apartments. Our most important role as a city should be providing basic services and making sure our residents have a safe and healthy place to live, work, learn, and play. I believe all new projects being built in the city that must have a rezoning or special use permit that include housing should offer affordable units and dedicated workforce housing (housing that is affordable to households earning 60 to 120% of the area median income). Along with this I believe that these same projects should be rewarded with added density options to offset this cost along with implementing energy-efficiency solutions to add to the affordability. We should work with area organizations that assist low income housing like Build United with education, connection, and in the future potentially funding weatherization solutions and solar PV installation. I applaud the work already being done by Harrisonburg Housing & Redevelopment Authority as they install solar on low income housing in partnership with Secure Futures. Making clean energy accessible to low income people should be a priority for a resilient city. I applaud the work done last year at Our Community Place and Gemeinschaft Home in partnership with Give Solar and Green Hill Solar to add Solar PV to reduce their annual operating costs to better serve their missions. There are creative ways to help those in our community that need the support the most and I see it happening through private industry – the city should support these efforts fully.

5. What do you think about recycling?

Recycling is a downgrading of materials (a cradle to grave approach), is financially challenging, and does not benefit the environment holistically. However, we need to continue our recycling efforts until we can figure out ways to be good instead of less bad. Recycling is simply less bad. The city can and should focus on reducing usage as a first line of defense (cradle to cradle approach). The city should continue the mobile recycling center to make it more convenient for residents to recycle their used plastics, cardboard, and metals. If the global economy shifts and economic viability of recycling at a greater scale increases again, we should re-evaluate our systems. However, for now the mobile center seems like a viable solution.

I am supportive of efforts to reduce plastic use in our city. I do not think it is the right time to institute a “plastic tax” for bag use in this economy. However, I do think there are ways to encourage behavioral change without financial burdens to our residents. Education is my first choice.

I have seen how demand can influence industry change. If our City creates larger demand for reusable receptables (closed loop) then we could influence manufacturers to make different decisions for their products. Cities collaborating with other cities would increase this change to happen.

The city also could implement a curbside composting service working with a company like Black Bear Composting. Charlottesville was able to divert 267,920 pounds of waste from their landfill last year using this service. Harrisonburg, thanks to local citizen efforts, diverted 11,200 pounds using the same service. Harrisonburg has a lot of potential growth here. The city could also take on the task of creating composting options at the recycling convenience center as other cities have done.

6. Is there anything Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions, the largest sector of climate change emissions in VA and the United States?

Harrisonburg has done great things to improve the bike trail network in Harrisonburg over the last 10 years. There is more to come, and more multi-use paths are in the works. We need to continue to build out greenways, bike lanes, and public transportation solutions to further reduce our transportation emissions.

We should also continue to look for optimizations in our systems. Electric buses are one option – although again in this time of economic uncertainty I am not advocating for purchasing new buses. We should continue to look at rider patterns, survey potential riders, and make sure we are fully serving our community with the public transportation systems that are available. We should also look at signage, crosswalk, and sidewalk options through our entire city. I know from walking the streets of Harrisonburg there are some safe places “not to be in a car” and some places where there is no good time of day to walk or ride a bike. We need to work hard to improve the options to get out of a car in our city.

Making solutions as easy as possible for our residents is the best way to change patterns and reduce our transportation emissions.

I am also eager to work with JMU on ways to reduce the number of cars JMU students bring to town each year. The addition of parking decks not only increases the ability for students to bring their cars it also increases the distance they are willing to travel – increasing the number of students living in the County. We want and need these students living in the city limits as they bring economic vitality that helps offset the increased demands they put on our public services. I believe there is a better balance available than currently exists and this will certainly help reduce transportation emissions on a city scale.

A pdf version of Charles Hendricks’ answers to CAAV’s questions can be found here.

Charles has also posted these questions and answers, with photos, to his website here.

Luciano Benjamin

Luciano Benjamin (D) is a senior college student graduating with a degree in Political Science who is running for Harrisonburg City Council. According to the Luciano for Harrisonburg City Council website, his campaign centers around Achieving Affordable Housing for All, Boldly Addressing the Climate Crisis, and Embracing Harrisonburg’s Cultural Diversity. Luciano is a proponent of the Harrisonburg 50 by 25 Campaign and collaborated with CAAV and other allies as one of the student organizers of the Harrisonburg Climate Strikes in 2019.

See his responses to CAAV’s Questionnaire below:

1) Do you support the 50×25 campaign?

Yes absolutely!

2) How would you implement the 3 goals of the 50×25 campaign?

To implement the first goal, 50% of our energy coming from renewable sources by 2025, of the 50 by 25 campaign I would commit to making sure that all of our new city buildings, schools included, are constructed with solar built-in. I would also push to retrofit all existing city municipal and school buildings with solar. Our current contract with Dominion stops us from buying energy from renewable sources or constructing our own municipal renewable energy plants. I would like for us to have a conversation as a community to determine whether or not we are willing to break the contract with Dominion so we could pursue constructing our own municipal solar farm and if we do so, how would we pay for the fine that would be incurred. I would also support a financing option, through loans and subsidies, to ensure that our working-class families have access to being able to put solar panels on their own homes, reducing their energy bills and our reliance on non-renewable energy.

To implement the second goal, 25% greater energy efficiency for city municipal and school buildings, I would begin by continuing to support the EPSAC recommendations for the city to create an Internal Energy Team to determine how we can operate to a higher standard in our city buildings and where improvements can be made. Following that, it is critical that we adopt the most recent edition of the International Energy Conservation Code, as per EPSAC recommendations, for our new buildings. We also must retrofit our existing city buildings to ensure that they meet these same standards. We as a city must also expand the Harrisonburg Electric Commission’s (HEC) Home Energy Audit, so residents throughout our city can have access to a free energy audit that will allow them to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, saving them money on their electric bill.

To implement the third goal, create programs that encourage weatherization and energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings, I once again turn to expand the HEC’s Home Energy Audit program so that residents throughout our city have free access to this critical service, on-demand. We must do more to make sure all of our residents are aware of this program as well, which means making sure it is available in multiple languages, at a minimum.

3) What would you do to increase or facilitate the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings?

All new city/school buildings must be built with solar energy sources as a part of the design. We, as a city, must lead the way if we want our residents to also put solar panels on their own homes. All existing city/school buildings must also be retrofit with renewable energy sources.

4) How would you prioritize city and state resources for addressing environmental justice concerns, specifically energy efficiency for low-income housing?

All too often, working-class families struggle to participate in the environmental movement, not because they do not care, but because they lack the resources to make their homes energy-efficient or to power their homes with renewable sources, like solar. As a consequence, working-class families are often the most negatively affected by the climate crisis. As a city councilor, I will commit to making sure that the city makes available programs, like the HEC Home Energy Audit, to our working-class families first. To reiterate what I have previously said, I would also work to make sure working-class families have financing options available to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and to put solar on them, through loans and subsidies.

5) What do you think about recycling?

I am absolutely in favor of recycling and I am thrilled our city still has a recycling program. We must do more to expand it, even in the face of difficulties of finding buyers for some of our recyclables. Our city is filled with brilliant and talented individuals, whose skills should be put to work to find creative, local solutions to deal with the issues we may have with some of our recyclables. I am also in favor of resuming curbside recycling pickup as soon as funding allows.

6) Is there anything Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions, the largest sector of climate change emissions in VA and the United States?

There are absolutely things that Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions in our city. Step one is creating the finest public transit system in the country. We must work to phase out our current bus fleet with buses that are powered by renewable sources, whether that be electricity, biofuel, etc. Whenever we, as a city, buy new vehicles for our public transit fleet we must make sure that they are built to a high standard and do not further contribute to transportation emissions in our city. We must also do more to make sure our public transit system works for all of our city residents, allowing them to travel from their jobs to their homes and to our commercial centers. We must every year determine how we can make our public transit systems operate most efficiently to the benefit of all our city residents. In addition to all this, we must continue to work to make our city pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, so that individuals feel comfortable and safe biking and walking to their school, job, home, etc. One way I would accomplish this would be through the city creating more dedicated bike lanes. We must also create more pedestrian-only areas, to make our city more walkable.

A pdf version of Luciano Benjamin’s answers to the CAAV questions is here.

Luciano has also answered the questions in a YouTube video here.

Legislation Roundup 2020

We are providing a new space on our website that focuses on national, state, and local legislation that we want folks to know about. Our first presentation pertains to the recent VA General Assembly (GA) session. If you have questions about what you find here, please reach out to contactcaav [at] gmail.com.

This year’s GA considered a huge number of bills pertaining to the environment, climate change, energy, conservation, and utilities. The session has now ended and many bills await the Governor’s signature. Because the number of these bills is so large, and because of their potential to change the landscape in these important areas, CAAV is presenting a summary of 15 of what we believe are among the most significant. We are including how the Central Valley Legislators voted on them.

See the spreadsheet below; passed bills are in green and those that failed are in red. Use the sliders to access the entire spreadsheet. If you have a different state senator and/or delegate than those shown, you can use the listed link to locate a bill on Virginia’s Legislative Information System (LIS), https://lis.virginia.gov/, to find out how your representative voted. We have included a few bills that did not pass. We are also providing links to media coverage of several of the more notable bills, identified by subject.

The document below the spreadsheet provides details from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network about the VA Clean Economy Act, arguably one of the most complex bills passed.

Joy Loving for the CAAV Legislative and Elections Committee


Media Coverage

General
https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2020-03-14/for-environmentalists-a-monumental-legislative-session

Electric Utility Regulations
https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/thought-experiment-dominion-as-a-media-company/

Clean Energy
https://www.nrdc.org/experts/walton-shepherd/how-rev-virginias-new-climate-action-engine
https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2020/3/12/21172836/renewable-energy-virginia-100-percent-clean
https://www.utilitydive.com/news/clean-energy-bill-marks-dramatic-transition-for-virginia-amid-dispute-over/573793/
https://powerforthepeopleva.com/2020/03/06/the-wise-county-coal-plant-should-never-have-been-built-why-fight-to-keep-it-open/
https://energynews.us/2020/03/16/southeast/virginia-compromise-brings-clarity-to-homeowner-association-solar-rules/
https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2020/03/virginia-bill-hoa-solar-installation/
https://powerforthepeopleva.com/2020/03/16/it-was-a-messy-chaotic-general-assembly-session-it-also-worked-out-pretty-well/
https://www.virginiamercury.com/2020/03/18/new-laws-clear-away-barriers-to-small-solar-projects/

Water
https://www.cbf.org/about-cbf/locations/virginia/offices/richmond/legislative-session/


View the spreadsheet below in Google Sheets HERE.

Click “Ctrl” (Control) and “+” to enlarge the print if needed for ease of viewing. Note that this may cause extra sliders to appear just outside the original, shorter ones which allow viewing of the complete spreadsheet.  You can use “Ctrl/-” to reset the size.


View this document on CCAN’s website HERE.

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