The Clean Water Act, acid mine drainage, hydraulic fracturing, The Keystone XL pipeline, and electric vehicles were among the variety of issues debated at the 2012 Legislative Conference of the National Association of Counties (NACo) meeting in Washington, D.C. last weekend. The conference drew county representatives from Alaska to Florida, Massachusetts to California. Hawaii was represented, too.
In the Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee, which I have the honor to serve as a vice chair, county supervisors and commissioners learned about the effects of acid mine drainage from abandoned mines in the west, and supported “Good Samaritan” legislation that would allow voluntary efforts to clean up abandoned sites without the specter of liability. Often, the mine clean up improves and protects water quality, but cannot fully meet Clean Water Act standards and, therefore, could be subject to citizen lawsuits. According to the Colorado sponsors of the committee resolution, local Good Samaritans are ready to clean up mines that may have been abandoned a hundred years ago, when the threat of liability is removed. The resolution was passed unanimously by the more than 65 county officials at the table.
Of interest to urban and rural counties alike was the potential for increased electric vehicle production, as well as a plea for research and development of energy storage technology. As electric vehicles prove their efficacy, something called large format lithium ion batteries will be needed to reduce the time needed to charge and extend the distance that can be traveled on a charge. Re-use of the batteries after their useful life powering the vehicle also needs more research, according to a guest speaker from the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Enhanced energy storage for renewable sources such as wind and solar would make the nation’s electricity grid more reliable, secure, and efficient. A resolution supporting that approach passed with only six “no” votes.
There was a livelier debate about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which proposes to send crude oil from Canada via pipeline through Montana and other western states to Texas for refining and export. Extensive wordsmithing of a resolution supported the comprehensive review of the Presidential Permit for Keystone and other pipeline projects, and the resolution passed by a vote of 52 to 6. Paramount in all the discussions was the potential economic boost to local coffers. Funding for local programs and services is very tight, or non-existent, for most counties across the country, and that challenge hung heavily in the room.
The committee debates at NACo reflect a lot of commonalities between counties. Regardless of the subject matter – environment, transportation, human services, or education – how to pay for locally delivered services, state and federal mandates, and increasing regulatory pressures are shared issues, whether in a large urban county like Fairfax, or a small rural county like Maui, Hawaii. The challenges often are the same; it’s the scale that differs.
The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held next Wednesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale. County Executive Anthony Griffin will discuss his proposed FY 2013 county budget. I look forward to seeing you there!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]