Takoma Park, Maryland is a city of 17,000 just outside Washington, DC. Known for its liberal politics, it is sometimes referred to as the “Berkeley of the East.” Like many US cities, it is concerned the federal government is not doing enough to address the challenge of an overheating planet and so, all politics being local, it is taking matters into its own hand.
Climate scientists agree that to prevent average global temperatures increasing by 3º Celsius or more, humans need to stop burning fossil fuels — not in a 100 years, not by 2050, but now, today, right this very minute. And so the city council is preparing a non-binding Emergency Response Act that will serve as a road map for the future of the community. It calls for the city to be net zero on carbon emissions by 2035. It is probably no coincidence that the first gas station in American to rip out all its gas pumps and replace them with EV chargers is located in Takoma Park. A sign of things to come in the city, for sure.
According to The Washington Post, the first part of the plan is a ban on all gas appliances, the closure of any fossil fuel pipelines in the community, and moving all gas stations outside city limits by 2045. According to city officials, implementing those items could cost the average Takoma Park homeowner up to $25,000. The ban on gas appliances is intended to stop the sale of new gas-fired stoves, water heaters, and dryers immediately. By 2030, residents would be required to replace all such appliances with electric versions.
Other provisions include energy saving upgrades to existing buildings with the the city as well as a transition to all LED lighting and a total fossil fuel ban that would include lawn mowers and leaf blowers. The plan has received strong support from the resident-led Committee on the Environment and other advocacy groups, including the Sunrise Movement. But not everyone is pleased.
“The number of times the word ‘require’ is used in this is stunning,” city resident Maxine Hillary at told a public hearing recently. She criticized the fossil fuel ban as “insensitive and draconian” and denounced the proposal for mandatory composting, stating: “Don’t tell me what to do with my table scraps.”
John Ackerly, co-chair of the environmental committee, says he has been “shocked” that so many of his friends and neighbors are pushing back against the proposals. Many have made rude comments about “LED police.” In general, people don’t like being dictated to, and so the mandatory nature of many provisions in the plan have raised some concerns.
“Yes, there are ways that we could soften [these policies] and make them more palatable. . . . But we know that voluntary programs are not going to get us to net zero,” says Takoma Park sustainability manager Gina Mathias. The city is keenly aware that some of the provisions in its sustainability plan might impose a burden on low income residents and so it is creating a “sustainability assistance fund” to help residents and businesses transition from fossil fuels.
The debate has led to the city removing 2045 as the year when a ban on fossil fuels — something that no other city has proposed — would go into effect. But others argue the operative date should be added back in and moved up. “If you believe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil-fuel free has to become a reality in the next one or two decades — and not just in Takoma,” says Bruce Nilles, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute. “We don’t really have a choice.” And that’s the point.