Local Commentary

Air & Water Quality, Metro Lead Year-End Debates

Although most media coverage focused on federal and international issues, December was a critically important month for regional developments in air and water quality and Metro – two topics that directly affect everyone living and working in greater Washington, D.C.

Metropolitan Washington has seen steady improvement in air and water quality because of federal, state, and local government and private sector actions. Our air is cleaner than the air in many international cities, including European capitals. And over the past few years, we have had very few – and in some years no – code-red days when temperatures were over 90 degrees, a distinct improvement from the past.

As your representative on the Metropolitan Air Quality Committee (MWAQC), I have worked with regional colleagues to achieve these results. Reflecting this progress, at the December MWAQC meeting we formally asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate us in full attainment of the 2008 ozone standard and noted that our region is nearing the ability to meet even more ambitious goals. We also committed to maintain this compliance, along with contingency plans should we fail to meet our targets.

In December, MWAQC also submitted comments strongly opposing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, in recognition that much of our air pollution and its related negative health effects originate in fossil-fuel burning power plants to our west. We wrote: “Federal emissions control programs contribute up to a third of the GHG [Green House Gas] emission reductions projected for the region, and are therefore critical to meeting our goals… Increased emissions caused by burning fossil fuels result in greater amounts of GHG emissions, but also increased emissions of pollutants such as ozone and fine particle precursors…These pollutants have negative impacts on public health and welfare…”
Funding Metro

Long-term funding for Metro continued to be widely discussed at year end with new proposals, but with no consensus. Much of the debate focused not on funding, but on forcing major governance changes, specifically creating a small control board to oversee Metro through a transition period.

At the state level, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe proposed that a portion of the taxes flowing to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority be designated for Metro and a floor on the existing regional gas tax for the rail-and-bus transit system be established to offset the reduction in gas prices. At the federal level, Congresswoman Barbara Comstock proposed some additional funding for Metro, but tied these monies to dramatic governance and other changes. Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Marion Bowser continued to support a regional sales tax, while Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called for D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government each to contribute $125 million until fiscal 2022 to close the $2 billion gap in Metro’s capital budget.

My own view is that the funding issue is our number one concern. Governance is important, but without adequate funding no board of any size can really solve Metro’s problems. In fact, the reverse order of priority, I believe, is being used to indefinitely delay, or worse yet, prevent confronting the funding issue with the inevitable demise of Metro as this strategy’s objective.

To solve Metro’s funding issues, the federal and state governments need to provide much more to reflect the benefits these jurisdictions derive from the system. As an example, according to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), the Commonwealth alone receives $600 million plus annually in taxes from Metro-generated economic activity, yet currently pays only $150 million for it.

Until those benefiting contribute what they should, I am not willing to commit Falls Church to increased subsidies, amounting to more than an additional 1 cent on our tax rate next year. For this reason, I voted against a Council of Governments resolution committing existing funders, including Falls Church, to contribute more if long-term funding is not addressed in 2018.

I believe a regional sales tax with a rate adjusted to reflect the differences in value obtained from Maryland, Virginia, and DC may be the best way to go, but only after the free-riding federal and state governments pony up their fair shares. Such a tax would remove the Metro funding burden on local government budgets that is, in our case, competing with critical local government obligations such as education and public safety.

On Metro governance, I also oppose efforts to water down or eliminate the Falls Church vote if we still have funding obligations. For this reason, I have not supported the creation of a control board that would remove our vote unless that board also takes on all funding obligations. I believe that any proposal to take over governance should also assume the funding requirements.

On these issues, I would appreciate the views of our citizens and look forward to hearing from you.


David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.