Conversation with County Climate Leaders: Sandra L. Brecher

September 19, 2021
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Sandra L. Brecher who represents the County Department of Transportation as a member of the Climate Planning Team talks about her experience on the team, recent progress, and shares advice on how people can get involved with the cause.

My Green Montgomery: How has Montgomery County recently tackled climate change? 

Sandra Brecher: The County has been aware of climate change and did a series of studies earlier pulling together representatives of various departments & offices to start figuring out what we were already doing and what we needed to do. But the real turning point was when the County Council adopted the ambitious goals we are now working toward in 2018.  With those goals set, Adriana Hochberg was selected as the ACAO (Assistant Chief Administrative Office) to be the County’s Climate Coordinator and she started the ball rolling toward developing a Climate Action Plan.

The County Executive wanted to take advantage of the considerable expertise residing within the County with our residents, businesses and organizations and have the climate planning effort built from the grass roots level. Work groups were formed, recommendations made, our consultant was selected, and that consultant – AECOM – organized and evaluated the Work Group recommendations. Many meetings were held within County government and with community-based and interest-based groups all over the County and public input was received on the draft document. The final Climate Action Plan (CAP) was issued, along with a work plan. Many meetings with groups throughout the County are continuing to get information out and receive input. Ongoing implementation efforts are underway. Budgeting for FY22 (Fiscal Year 2022) reflected the need to allocate funds for both personnel and operating purposes and discussions are taking place re-budgeting for climate action for FY23.

MGM: What has been the best part of working on the Climate Team? 

SB: Working together on a really important mission!

We have a great core Climate Team of very committed, passionate staff who bring a variety of perspectives to this effort. It’s very inspiring to work with colleagues who really care about issues you care about.

At the same time I’ve been learning so much along the way. We coordinate with and get information from our respective departments, from other agencies and offices in County government, from the consultants, and from many others within and outside government, including the public. Using all these resources we worked intensely together to produce first the draft and then the “final” Climate Action Plan.

There was a great sense of accomplishment that resulted from that effort – but a realization as well that we have Soooo Much To Do – and the clock is ticking for our community, our nation and the world! But we are all very committed to moving the needle, and together under Adriana’s leadership are working hard to move forward in the most effective ways possible on so many fronts. Still, we have our lighter moments. I think we all realize you have to find humor where you can, because otherwise these issues and the really serious consequences they bear can weigh you down and keep you from functioning effectively!

MGM: What resources do you think are most useful for finding information about climate change? 

SB: There are many organizations out there doing research and other organizations compiling info & research – it’s a veritable alphabet soup, including USDN, ICLEI, NOAA, UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). In addition from a transportation perspective there are many national organizations such as APTA, ACT, USDOT, USEPA and state agencies – e.g. MDOT.

There are so many different aspects to climate change, and there is so much being researched & written about climate change, that to get the latest information about climate change in general, or climate change as it impacts a particular field, doing an internet search is probably the best way to start. I would start with the UN and EPA and some of the other international and national organizations. Focus on key topics of interest, start putting together a list of key words or subject areas, & then follow up to dig deeper on the aspects of climate change most interesting to you as more resources reveal themselves.

MGM: How do you suggest teens participate more in climate action? Or how can everyday people including younger people get more involved with climate action? 

SB: Read everything you can find, sign up to participate in webinars, educate yourself about the aspects you are interested in. Climate change is a huge and extremely varied set of causes and consequences. It is virtually impossible to have a thorough understanding of the entire array. Pick something you are particularly interested in – something important to you – and educate yourself on that so you can determine what the most effective role you can play is. Then get involved. There are so many resources and organizations available – you just need to decide what you are most passionate about, because passion will drive you to learn and to find what works best for your action.

MGM: Are there any climate action projects you are looking forward to seeing implemented soon? 

SB: There are many!

Among those I have been directly involved with, the top ones are: The EV Purchasing Coop for residents and businesses. The Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Executive Regulation and implementation of the NextGen TDM program on a broader basis across the County.

More micromobility projects include greater use of e-bikes & e-scooters and expansion of the County’s active transportation infrastructure.

Additionally:

  • Climate information and communications efforts for the broader community, and training for County employees.
  • Others that will impact the climate include the outcome of the Fare Equity study and the Reimagining Ride On study – those will have a significant impact on transit ridership in our County; Community Choice Energy (CCE), Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS).
  • Addressing the increasing need for flood control as a result of increased intense precipitation.

We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time – we must increase our resilience and ability to address the impacts from climate change that are here and now, while at the same time mitigating future impacts. I hope to be able to contribute to achieving those goals.



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