County Update: Commissioner Fast urges ‘the will to be bold and make sustainability a priority’

Commissioner Becky Fast was sworn in to her first term in January.

Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 1 Commissioner Becky Fast.

In 2007, Johnson County Board of Commissioners launched an aggressive initiative to reduce pollution levels by 80 percent by 2050 through curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. This bold vision, led by Chairwoman Annabeth Surbaugh and chaired by Commissioner Ed Peterson, focused both on county government operations and the Johnson County community. A follow-up survey in 2011 showed 87 percent of Johnson County residents agreed with the Commission’s sustainability goals to reduce pollution, conserve energy, and protect water resources.

Johnson County conducted a Green House Gas (GHG) emissions inventory in 2013 to monitor progress and reported a 3 percent decrease in its community-wide emissions. Unfortunately, in recent years, the commitment to continue such efforts has not been a priority of the Commission. A current GHG emissions inventory of the county’s operations and county-wide picture is needed to see if progress has continued or declined since 2013. The Mid-America Regional Council Air Quality Forum, on which I serve, has been participating in the formation of the Regional Transportation Plan 2050 and includes many proposed projects to reduce metro area pollutants.

The lack of political will to invest and make sustainability efforts a top-level priority was brought out front and center in 2017. Johnson County’s Sustainability Director resigned and left for “greener” pastures to work for the Douglas County Commission. She stated her motivation to resign was the conservative political drift of the Johnson County Commission. “Sustainability efforts were no longer priorities,” she said. “They are still priorities in Douglas County.”

This policy shift was evident when the Commission decided not to pursue “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) certification with the construction of the new county courthouse and the medical examiner facility. This was a definite policy departure, as previously all eight Johnson County government buildings constructed from 2008 to 2014 were LEED certified.

Johnson County is at a critical point in determining how it will manage its solid waste as the County faces a landfill that is slated to fill up in 20 years. Now that other countries are refusing our plastic recycling, they’re ending up in the landfill. This poses a complex and challenging problem given the County’s population could double in the next 40 years.

I currently serve as the Commission Liaison to the County’s Solid Waste Management Committee, which is working on a five-year plan to be presented to the Commission in August. The Northeast Mayors (Fairway, Merriam, Mission, Roeland Park, Westwood, Westwood Hills, Mission Woods, Mission Hills, and Prairie Village) recently sent a joint letter to the Solid Waste Committee asking for consideration to step up efforts with waste diversion and recycling. Currently, there is limited food waste recycling that occurs in Johnson County. Twenty-six percent of all disposed residential material is food waste. This indicates that there is significant potential for increases in the County’s food waste recycling rates.

Positive steps are happening within Johnson County government with the recent hiring of a new Sustainability Director. In addition, on June 20th the County Commission agreed unanimously to join the KCP&L Renewables Direct program.

As your newly elected District 1 Commissioner, you can trust that I will be a strong voice for improving air quality, increasing energy efficiency efforts resulting in tax savings, and maximizing waste diversion from the landfill, including promoting innovation in food waste composting. Your input and feedback are needed, as the Johnson County Board of Commissioners is deliberating on the 2019 Draft Solid Waste Plan in mid-August.

Although we have been practicing and promoting conservation for many years in Johnson County, we can—and will—do more. This process involves each of us working together and making a long-term commitment to sustainability measures for present and future generations. We can and must do better!

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to indicate that Fairway Mayor Melanie Hepperly signed the joint letter to the solid waste committee. Fairway was inadvertently left off the list upon first publication.