Adriana Hochberg talks about climate issues in Montgomery County

Adriana Hochberg, Montgomery County Climate Change Officer and Acting Director of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Montgomery County Government

Adriana Hochberg, dubbed the “climate czarina” by many of her colleagues in Montgomery County government — a title that also serves as the name of her county’s Twitter account — has been busy in recent months.

That’s because Hochberg balances two roles: serving as both climate change officer, a position created last year by County Executive Marc Elrich, and acting director of the Department of Environmental Protection. (DEP) of the county. Adam Ortiz, the former manager, is gone join the environmental protection agency at the end of last year.

Earlier this month, the county council voted unanimously to extend Hochberg in her role as acting DEP director until Oct. 31.

In a recent interview, Hochberg said she would consider taking on the role permanently “if the opportunity arises.”

As climate change officer, Hochberg said she deals with policies that impact multiple county departments, while as acting DEP director, she oversees more than 100 programs and infrastructure. facilities, including the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station near Rockville and the Yard Trimmings Composting Facility. at Dickerson.

Both involve working with aspects of the county Climate action plan — a document that sets targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 80% by 2027 and eliminate them by 2035.

Earlier this month, Bethesda Beat spoke with Hochberg about environmental and climate change issues in Montgomery County. Here are some of his responses, edited for length and clarity.

What are your main objectives as interim director of DEP?

First, I want to support staff in carrying out DEP’s mission. Second, to ensure individual and collective well-being. You know, we all survived the pandemic together, we’re still healing, figuring out what the post-COVID work arrangement looks like. And I want to help people rebuild the team spirit for DEP. And third is to center racial equity and social justice in our work, in what we do. I think this is a responsibility for all of us, as improving racial equity and social justice supports the well-being of our community.

The county council recently adopted the building energy performance standards bill, which aims to modernize multi-family and commercial buildings throughout the county and make them more environmentally friendly. What is the next step in implementing this legislation?

One of our next steps is to call for community members to serve on the Building Improvement Advisory Council. It’s a brand new county council that was provided for in the legislation. And so, we’re looking for interested people, who have expertise in this area, to participate — and they’re going to help us be a sounding board as we move forward in the development of regulations. We want to make sure we continue to engage our public stakeholders in the regulatory process, just as we did when the DEP was developing the legislation.

Earlier this year, the board also passed the Green Building Act Now, which allocates 10% of the county’s energy consumption tax to the County’s Green Bank, a non-profit corporation aimed at helping county building owners make environmental improvements. The bill targeted multi-family and commercial buildings. Will it be easier to implement changes in multifamily, commercial or both?

I know that [the Green Bank staff] have worked with a mix of commercial real estate, such as office buildings, as well as multi-family buildings [buildings] in the old days. So [they’re] are looking to work with clients who need help. So they have been successful on both of these fronts as well as in the residential market. [customers].

How is the county preparing for stormwater management issues in the coming years, given the recent floods?

We have brought in a team of external experts and hydrologists to help the county undertake a comprehensive analysis of the current situation, in terms of our current regulations, the working responsibilities of our respective departments with respect to the management floods, to help us identify the gaps and also read and do a review of the data and identify what the data gaps are? Moving forward, we can begin a watershed-by-watershed assessment and analysis so that we can then begin the work necessary to prepare our neighborhoods and communities for the additional amount of rain during floods that we already have. started to suffer.

In the past, the county has taken a more reactive stance – we act once the flood has happened. We want to go more towards a proactive attitude. This also includes reviewing projections of increased rainfall amounts that we can expect to see in Montgomery County over the next several decades.

The county launched its cooperative program for the purchase of electric vehicles in January. How do you see the electric car market in the years to come? Will the vehicles be affordable for low-income people?

I read the other day that currently about 5% of vehicles in the national park are electric. It’s a small number, but it’s been growing pretty quickly. And so many different automakers have made these announcements that by 2035 they will only be selling electric vehicles. So I think the race is on between different car manufacturers to offer more variety, more models that meet the needs of different people and at different price points.

One of the great local environmental debates is the one where the county should install solar panels. Some believe solar panels should be installed in the agricultural preserve while others point to the rooftops of Montgomery County public schools, parking lots and similar areas. Is there a place where this is more likely in the near future?

We worked with the National Renewable Energy Lab for an agrovolatic solar installation in agricultural reserves. We would be the first facility in the mid-Atlantic to scientifically assess how well table crops grow under and beside solar panels. These are therefore solar panels that would be placed a little higher, a few meters from the ground, to allow the use of space and soil for agriculture.

MCPS has plans underway for solar power on MCPS rooftops, and our General Services Department also has plans for additional solar power. We have the construction breaks ground this month at the Oaks Landfill (northeast of Gaithersburg). This is where there are six megawatts of solar energy. Four of those six megawatts will benefit low- and middle-income residential subscribers. It is the largest community solar project in the whole country dedicated to low and moderate energies.[income] community members.

The term “environmental racism” has been mentioned repeatedly at local election forums in recent cycles. In what ways should the county address this issue in the future?

We dedicated a chapter of the Montgomery County Climate Action Plan [to] looking at environmental injustices, both historic and current in the county, particularly with respect to housing, transportation, and energy. An example that really helps illustrate environmental racism is when you look over the past five years, it’s really been determined that from an air quality perspective, people who live near very frequented are strongly affected by air emissions in terms of health impacts. And then when you look at house prices, the houses that tend to be more affordable are the ones that tend to be closest to those busy transportation corridors. And so you have, more frequently, people of color who are increasingly exposed to air quality emissions.

When it comes to transportation, we need to move away from internal combustion engine vehicles, so we need to electrify. There are also options other than electrification; hydrogen is something the county is seriously considering for our bus fleet. And then we have to make it easier for people to walk and cycle, to take public transport, so that there is a total need for fewer cars on the road.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]

Teresa H. Sadler