D.C. Area Sees Spike In Rate of Emis­sions

Car­bon Diox­ide In­creases 13.4% In 4-Year Pe­riod

The Washington Post Sunday - - Front Page - By David A. Fahren­thold

The Wash­ing­ton area is in the mid­dle of a car­bon diox­ide binge, with emis­sions of this green­house gas from ve­hi­cles and elec­tric­ity users hav­ing in­creased at more than twice the na­tional rate be­tween 2001 and 2005, ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Post es­ti­mate.

That es­ti­mate, which ap­pears to be the first to track the re­gion’s emis­sions from those two key sources, found a 13.4 per­cent in­crease. Na­tion­ally, those emis­sions grew by 5.6 per­cent in the same pe­riod.

The Post used traf­fic sta­tis­tics and util­ity records to track the two ma­jor com­po­nents of green­house gases; other sources, such as farms and air­planes, were not eas­ily quan­ti­fied.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say that th­ese num­bers il­lus­trate an un­wanted legacy of Wash­ing­ton’s re­cent eco­nomic boom: Pop­u­la­tion grew, but emis­sions grew faster. As ex­urbs have crept out to farms and forests, the re­gion has re­quired more en­ergy for home air con­di­tion­ers and long- dis­tance com­mutes.

The es­ti­mate also gives a sense of the task fac­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments, which are tak­ing their first steps to­ward mea­sur­ing and re­duc­ing green­house gases. But with emis­sions in­creas­ing so quickly, their goals ap­pear to be

re­ced­ing even as they are set.

“ The first stage is un­der­stand­ing the prob­lem and com­mit­ting to try­ing — and I don’t think we’ve got­ten there yet,” said Paul Fer­gu­son ( D), chair­man of the Ar­ling­ton County Board. In Jan­uary, Ar­ling­ton be­gan a pro­gram to con­serve en­ergy and tap re­new­able re­sources such as wind. “ We’re nowhere close,” he said.

Emis­sions jumped the most in sub­ur­ban Vir­ginia, where the es­ti­mate shows an in­crease of more than 18 per­cent. Emis­sions from the Mary­land sub­urbs grew less, about 11 per­cent, but that rate still out­paced the coun­try’s.

The bright­est news came from the Dis­trict, where emis­sions grew 6.7 per­cent. D. C. of­fi­cials said they think the rel­a­tively low in­crease is partly a sign of chang­ing be­hav­ior: Res­i­dents were leav­ing their cars at home and walk­ing, bik­ing or tak­ing pub­lic tran­sit.

Car­bon diox­ide, which is pro­duced when fos­sil fu­els such as oil, gas and coal are burned, is one of sev­eral gases that ac­cu­mu­late in the Earth’s at­mos­phere, trap­ping heat from the sun. Sci­en­tists blame such emis­sions for a grad­ual warm­ing trend over the past few decades. They worry that more emis­sions, and more warm­ing, could trig­ger wide­spread changes in na­ture.

In the United States, na­tional sta­tis­tics show that car­bon diox­ide makes up about 84 per­cent of all green­house gas emis­sions. The data also in­di­cate that about 58 per­cent of U. S. car­bon diox­ide comes from two sources: power plants and the tailpipes of cars and trucks.

But much less in­for­ma­tion is kept at the lo­cal level. When the Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments voted this month to es­tab­lish a com­mit­tee on cli­mate change, its first re­quest was that the com­mit­tee mea­sure emis­sions. That task is ex­pected to take months.

The Post es­ti­mate be­gan with data on miles trav­eled by cars and trucks in lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions and the amount of kilo­watt hours used by util­ity cus­tomers.

Then, us­ing meth­ods from the U. S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, those fig­ures were used to cal­cu­late the to­tal amount of car­bon diox­ide emit­ted from ve­hi­cles and power- plant smoke­stacks. [ See the chart for de­tails.]

The fig­ures from those cal­cu­la­tions leave out green­house gases from other sources, such as agri­cul­ture, planes, boats and oil fur­naces. Those miss­ing fig­ures could ac­count for half of all emis­sions.

Still, the fig­ures pro­vide a glimpse of the Wash­ing­ton area’s con­tri­bu­tions to a global prob­lem. They show that, even as cli­mate change was be­com­ing an ur­gent is­sue, res­i­dents were pro­duc­ing steadily more of the pol­lu­tants that cause it.

Jonathan Co­gan, a spokesman for the En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­viewed The Post’s cal­cu­la­tions and said the agency’s for­mu­las ap­peared to have been used cor­rectly. “ This doesn’t rep­re­sent ev­ery­thing, but it does rep­re­sent two ma­jor sources of emis­sions,” he said.

Car­bon diox­ide pol­lu­tion is dif­fer­ent from smog, which is com­posed of gases that cause prob­lems closer to the Earth’s sur­face. By con­trast, car­bon diox­ide winds up in the up­per at­mos­phere. The Wash­ing­ton area does not meet the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s smog stan­dards; the EPA does not have reg­u­la­tions on car­bon diox­ide.

Across the area, car­bon diox­ide emis­sions in­creased faster than the pop­u­la­tion, which grew about 5.5 per­cent from 2001 to 2005. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups said that this is an in­di­ca­tion that the prob­lem is not only growth but the way in which the re­gion has grown.

“ Peo­ple have moved farther and farther out and drive more and more miles,” said Frank O’Don­nell, pres­i­dent of the District­based Clean Air Watch. “ What it’s telling you is, sprawl is caus­ing a big in­crease in green­house gases.”

In the past few months, sev­eral ju­ris­dic­tions have pledged im­prove­ments.

Mary­land has joined the Re­gional Green­house Gas Ini­tia­tive, a pact among East­ern states to re­duce emis­sions from power plants. Last week, Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley ( D) signed a “ clean cars” bill to im­pose tougher stan- dards on au­tos.

Last year, Wash­ing­ton be­came the first ma­jor city in the coun­try to man­date that some large new de­vel­op­ments have “ green” build­ings de­signed to con­serve en­ergy. Mont­gomery County has a sim­i­lar rule.

And in Vir­ginia this year, Ar­ling­ton and Fair­fax coun­ties have an­nounced plans to re­duce emis­sions. Fair­fax’s pro­gram, called a “ cool coun­ties” ini­tia­tive, in­cludes a pro­posal to buy 10 per­cent of the elec­tric­ity for county gov­ern­ment from wind farms, which pro­duce no green­house gases.

Some res­i­dents are tak­ing ad­van­tage of green- friendly poli­cies. State De­part­ment em­ployee Ed Fend­ley, for in­stance, com­mutes from his home near Ball­ston by bi­cy­cle. His zero- emis­sions trip is made pos­si­ble by Ar­ling­ton’s bi­cy­cle lanes and the show­ers and bike rack pro­vided by his em­ployer — and his will­ing­ness to en­dure rain, snow and bad driv­ers.

“ It still beats sit­ting in traf­fic,” said Fend­ley, who is a mem­ber of the Ar­ling­ton County School Board.

But much big­ger changes will prob­a­bly be nec­es­sary over the next few decades for the D. C. area to re­duce emis­sions. De­vel­op­ment will have to be clus­tered around mass tran­sit, ex­perts say. In far- flung sub­urbs, res­i­dents might one day rely on plug- in hy­brid cars, which can run for long dis­tances with­out burn­ing gaso­line.

And util­i­ties will have to build plants that cap­ture car­bon diox­ide or use non- fos­sil fu­els.

That day seems far off. In Vir­ginia, the Do­min­ion power com­pany has pro­posed a new plant to keep up with grow­ing de­mand for elec­tric­ity. The fa­cil­ity, planned in Wise County in the south­west­ern part of the state, would have pol­lu­tion- re­duc­ing fea­tures.

But it would still burn mainly coal.

“ Un­til a fuel comes along that can pro­duce the same amount of megawatts with the same cost,” coal won’t be sup­planted, Do­min­ion spokesman Dan Gen­est said.

Still, many peo­ple con­cerned about pol­lu­tion said last week that they are hope­ful— en­cour­aged by the at­ten­tion be­ing paid to cli­mate change.

“ We are start­ing,” said Matthias Ruth, di­rec­tor of an en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search in­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Mary­land. “ We are ask­ing the right ques­tions.”


Ed Fend­ley bikes to his job at the State De­part­ment from his home in Ball­ston. His zero-emis­sions trip is fa­cil­i­tated by bike lanes and a rack at work. De­spite foul weather and bad driv­ers, he says, “it still beats sit­ting in traf­fic.”

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