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TAKOMA PARK—Takoma Park’s Committee on the Environment met on Aug. 5 to discuss recommendations of planting trees in the city.

The Committee on the Environment serves as an official advisor to the mayor and city council on matters related to the environment.

According to the city, the committee is tasked with reviewing city and community actions that have an impact on the protection and restoration of the environment. The committee also helps the city to achieve sustainability and other environmental certifications to help meet environmental goals. 

The committee is staffed with members of the community including residents with expertise in scientific and environmental policy disciplines, representatives from local community organizations such as faith-based groups and representatives from local businesses or business groups. 

Committee members serve two-year terms and are not allowed to serve for more than three consecutive terms.

On Aug. 6, the committee heard updates from Gina Mathias, sustainability manager of Takoma Park, and discussed Takoma Park’s tree-planting goals at length. Mathias announced that the committee will be putting together focus groups in various neighborhoods in the fall to get feedback and engage the public about the city’s Climate Action Plan.

According to the city, the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (2019) will replace the 2014 Sustainability Energy Action Plan and provide updated goals. For instance, the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan of 2019 provides strategies for the city to reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2035. 

“During the focus groups, we would go over the Climate Action Plan and talk about what might be missing, so it’s not just recommendations from consultants that don’t live here,” Mathias said. 

She said that the focus group meetings would not take more than 90 minutes and could be held in living rooms and apartment complexes around the city. 

Meanwhile, Mathias also noted that the city of Takoma Park needs to have a clear definition of what “net zero” means when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. 

“We have not as a city defined net zero, and I think going into our climate plan and talking to the county, and as a committee, we should really define what net zero means for Takoma Park,” she said. 

Mathias explained that according to recommendations from Cadmus, an organization that provides climate-related risk evaluations and strategies, defining net zero for a city should include Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). 

The city can be powered at least in part by RECs produced by other municipalities or green organizations. These RECs help cities that might not be able to create all the energy they need to maintain operations without turning to less-sustainable energy options. 

“We haven’t defined how much or what percentage of our energy use could be from purchased RECs to be considered net-zero, and it doesn’t really seem like other communities have done so either,” Mathias said. “(We also know) that not all credits are created equal: there are some that are better than others; there are some that have more legitimacy to them. And do we want to solve our problems by just buying up a bunch of credits?”

Mathias noted that Takoma Park will not reach net zero without the help of RECs. 

The committee decided to discuss the issue of defining net-zero at the following meeting in the interest of preserving time to discuss other issues. 

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Takoma Park resident Lizz Kleemeier expressed concern for an insufficient number of native trees in the area.

“Our interest is that the city makes (planting native trees) a higher priority, not so much in the vision statement but making sure that we put a plan in place to promote biodiversity,” Kleemeier said. 

She brought handouts for the committee to look over with information on creating an urban forest.

“The Tree Canopy Assessment has shown that the urban forest (in Takoma Park) is distributed unequally among the city’s wards,” Kleemeier wrote in her packet. “In part, it may reflect an inadequate past outreach to all the diverse elements of the Takoma Park community. Environmental justice calls for engaging the participation of lower-income and minority residents in urban forest policy and management, and correcting inequities in the benefits and burdens of the urban forest.”

Kopal Jha, a member of the committee, noted that adding more trees to Takoma Park might prove problematic because homeowners are often nervous about tall trees in bad weather. Heavy rains and winds often lead to trees landing on electrical lines, roofs and cars, making homeowners tentative about planting more trees that could cause damage. 

However, the committee voted to recommend that the city continue to expand its tree-planting efforts. 

Takoma Park’s Committee on the Environment meets on the first Monday of each month.

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