Virginia lagging behind in carbon-footprint reductions

Item by Chris Graham

The Richmond and Northern Virginia-Washington, D.C. metro areas are among the top 15 metro areas in the country with the highest levels of carbon emissions per capita, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Brookings Institution.

But that’s not the rest of the story regarding carbon footprints.

The study, Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America, based its findings on auto and truck transportation and residential-energy emissions. The D.C. metro area came in at #12 in the analysis of metropolitan carbon footprints. Richmond was at #15, and the Hampton Roads area was #65.

The next part of the rest of the story – residents of the largest metro areas actually have a smaller per-person carbon footprint than citizens in the nation as a whole. What could explain that is that large metro areas tend to be much more geographically compact with rail-transit options than suburban and rural areas where people are more dependent on automobiles to get to work, to school and to take care of basic life needs.

And now to the final part of the rest of the story – Trip Pollard of the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center has analyzed the findings, and he says that several metro areas in Virginia are taking steps back in terms of reducing their own per-capita carbon footprints.

“Virginians are extremely dependent on driving and we use a lot of dirty sources of electricity, so we end up with larger-than-average carbon footprints in several of our metro areas,” said Pollard, director of SELC’s Land & Community Program.

“These findings demonstrate the need for stronger actions to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution in the Commonwealth,” Pollard said.

Virginia has lagged behind other states in funding energy efficiency, but has taken some initial steps to promote a more balanced transportation program, Pollard said.

“Gov. Kaine has recognized the importance of global warming and the threat it poses to Virginia, including creating the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change,” said Pollard, a member of the governor’s commission. “We must be particularly careful, though, when reviewing new transportation funding, not to advance more oversized, expensive highway projects that would lock us into decades of sprawl, driving, and pollution by subsidizing fossil fuel-dependent development patterns and increasing greenhouse-gas emissions.”

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