WASHINGTON — Gaithersburg had its day in Congress Friday as City Council Vice President Michael Sesma testified about the ways cities like his can act to protect the environment.
"Environmental degradation respects no political boundaries," Sesma told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. "Many local governments, including my city of Gaithersburg, are at the forefront of sustainability in planning, taking actions to make our communities vibrant places to live, work, learn and play."
Sesma was one of seven witnesses, mostly state natural resources officials, who testified about the role nonfederal agencies can play in combating environmental degradation.
He was asked to speak by the National League of Cities, an organization he has been involved with since 2007.
Gaithersburg, Sesma said, has worked to minimize stormwater runoff by constructing “green streets" and encouraging residents to become “active participants in protecting the watershed.”
The City Council has also enforced regulations protecting its “urban tree canopy” and mandated that all future municipal buildings qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification.
The biggest problem for small jurisdictions, Sesma said, is finding the money to pay the high cost of environmental regulations at a time when city budgets are being cut.
Sesma, who has served on the City Council since 2005, said testifying on Capitol Hill was “tremendous,” but a bit different from what he’s used to.
“When I’m at a City Council meeting I’m on the dais and I get to ask the questions,” he said after the hearing. He admitted he was nervous.
Sesma encountered some technical difficulties right off the bat. He was reminded by Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., to turn on his microphone. He was also twice asked to move closer to the mic when speaking.
And when Sesma went well over his allotted five minutes of speaking time, Shimkus cut him off, saying: “Mr. Sesma, I've been overly generous.”
Shimkus, for his part, praised Maryland, calling its response to a “coal ash problem” a model for how states can innovate to respond to complex problems.
In 2008, Maryland’s Department of the Environment unilaterally set requirements for the disposal of coal combustion byproducts, including fly ash, which can be harmful if not properly disposed of, according to the agency’s website.
“The state did not sit by powerless,” Shimkus said in his opening statement.
Sesma echoed a similar sentiment. “Maryland is a great example of states being very progressive and very proactive in protecting the environment,” he said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., praised state regulators but issued a warning about the susceptibility of cooperative environmental protection programs to partisan politics.
“We should be mindful of the serious threat the sequester and the Republican budget pose to this proven model of environmental protection,” he said, referring to the series of automatic, federal budget cuts scheduled to hit March 1 unless Congress acts.