A new faith-based group has formed to try and get the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to take a larger leadership role in the area of climate change.
Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions is an interfaith group that grew out of a committee at the Unitarian Univeralist Congregation of Fairfax and now includes environmental advocates from a variety of faith backgrounds.
“You have all stripes coming together on one issue, and I think it speaks loudly,” said Erik Backus, a Lutheran and member of the FACS Community Council.
Like religious leaders coming together to form the civil rights movement, Backus said, “I think it can really have an effect.”
The group began taking shape earlier this year, following an Earth Day summit of faith leaders who were already advocates on the issue of climate change within their respective religious organizations.
The council has established a four-part action plan that it wants the county to pursue. The group has also obtained a small grant to hire a part-time employee to help with organizational efforts.
FACS members believe that the county Board of Supervisors has not shown sufficient leadership on the issue of climate change. Unlike other jurisdictions in the region, including Arlington County, Fairfax does not have a formal climate plan, said Scott Peterson, a member of the FACS Community Council from the Unitarian faith.
Backus said he would describe the county’s level of engagement on environmental issues as “normal.” However, as a large, wealthy jurisdiction so close to the nation’s capital, he said, he thinks the county should be taking more of a leadership role.
“We are hoping to show the government that there are people of faith who care about these issues intensely,” Peterson said.
For a first step, FACS is asking the county to publicly display and rank the energy efficiency of all public buildings, including schools, on a dashboard. The county has discussed such a project but has not advanced it yet.
“We think that by showing a ranking of all county-owned buildings that it will put pressure on the building managers at the bottom,” Peterson said. “It will provide accountability and, ultimately, save taxpayers’ money.”
They are also seeking a commitment to reduce energy consumption by 25 percent by a to-be-determined date.
The group would also like the county to establish an office focused on environmental and climate-related issues, similar to what it did in establishing the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. Currently these functions are spread among multiple agencies.
Peterson said FACS plans to advocate for these types of projects so that they receive budget priority. In the last budget cycle, he said, the county energy coordinator position “came within a hair’s breadth of being eliminated,” and the board cut more than $500,000 the county executive had targeted for energy efficiency projects.
“They’ve had no constituency,” he said.
The other two points of the FACS action plan focus on engaging the private sector.
The group would like to see the county’s green building policy, which the board just updated this week, become a requirement and not a voluntary measure.
FACS also supports the development of the “Green Energy Triangle” in Lorton, to serve as a demonstration of green energy technologies, and would like to see the Private Sector Energy Taskforce reconstituted as an ongoing county organization to continue to engage the private sector in developing new ideas.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) said she believes the board has already done a lot of work in setting and pursuing environmental goals, citing achievements in preserving and growing the tree canopy, controlling stormwater and the recent work on the green building ordinance.
“I think that our board’s environmental agenda is a pretty sound and strong agenda,” Bulova said.