The Dernogalizer

November 19, 2009

UMD for Clean Energy Makes Waves on City Council

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:56 pm
Tags: ,

UMD for Clean Energy, student group I’m Campaign Director of, has another article out about us in The Diamondback about our efforts during the College Park City Council elections, which culminated in a march to the polls, and got some pretty positive reaction.  This new article also chronicles our presentation at a city council work session, where we put forth a proposal about tax breaks for green businesses.

UMD for Clean Energy makes waves on city council

By Brady Holt

Many of College Park’s longtime residents paint the university’s student body as a group that doesn’t care about the city.

But those residents may be surprised at where their city council is getting some innovative environmental policy ideas: the UMD for Clean Energy student group.

“Last month you brought us an idea — this month you brought us an idea!” Mayor Stephen Brayman said at Tuesday’s College Park City Council meeting, where two of the group’s representatives were pitching a proposal that would offer city tax credits to environmentally friendly businesses.

Earlier this year, the group assembled an ambitious platform of environmental initiatives it hopes to work with the city on and has already built relationships with most of the present and incoming council members.

Members will be staying close to the council in the years to come as they push this agenda and develop new environmental policy ideas, said Hilary Staver, the group’s political liaison.

“We definitely want to stay engaged in the community at the local level,” she said.

This engagement is not common among the city’s student population. Council members frequently complain that most students don’t care about the city: They’re just passing through, not taking the time to connect with or learn about College Park, according to city officials.

But Staver said she and others in her group aren’t disinterested in the city.

“It’s our community. I know people will say students are only here for four years or whatever, but it’s the community we’re a part of right now,” Staver said. “The clean energy movement has to start somewhere small. … We have to start local somewhere, so why not start with the community you’re in right now?”

Earlier this year, the council expressed great interest in a UMD for Clean Energy proposal that would lend money to residents who want to make their homes more energy efficient and is now preparing to lobby the state to give it the authority to do so.

The group also caught long-term residents’ attention when it published endorsements for this year’s council election, spending more than an hour interviewing each of the 15 candidates to discuss their environmental proposals and attracting several dozen students to the polls.

Its most recent work with the city was Tuesday’s council presentation on its proposed “tiered tax break program for green businesses,” which would reduce city property taxes for environment-related businesses or any business that demonstrated environmentally friendly practices.

The program would offer an economic incentive for new businesses to locate to College Park and for those already here to tone down their environmental impact, Staver and Matt Dernoga, UMD for Clean Energy’s campaign coordinator and Diamondback columnist, told the council.

College Park would be the biggest beneficiary of the program, they added, as it would let the city take part in the explosion predicted for green industries.

Some city officials questioned the logistics of the plan and the financial feasibility of reducing its property tax revenue in a recession, but Brayman said the plan was now in the city’s “thinking bin.”

Despite some tough questioning, council members did not appear to take the students any less seriously than any other group that presents a plan to the city. Yet Brayman did note that students who don’t pay city taxes were advocating that College Park forfeit some of its own revenue.

Staver said she looks forward to coming back before the council next semester to further flesh out her group’s environmental initiatives although she recognizes it may be a slow process.

“We weren’t expecting anything sort of huge or immediate to come out of [Tuesday’s presentation], but that’s okay,” she said. “It’s good just to get things on the table.”

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