Faith, Policy, and the Environment: Interview with Supervisor Penny Gross
meg, February 16, 2017
Supervisor Penny Gross is the current Supervisor for the Mason district of Fairfax County, which she was first elected to in November 1995, and was re-elected to her sixth term on November 3, 2015. Supervisor Gross also serves as vice-chair of the Board, as well as the chair of the Board’s Personnel Policy and Reorganization Committee, and the Board’s Environment Committee. In various other roles, Supervisor Gross has demonstrated her commitment to Fairfax County, through local government work, as well as community organizations.
Supervisor Gross generously agreed to answer our questions concerning faith, policy, and the environment.
Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions: Why is environmental policy important to you?
Supervisor Gross: I grew up in Oregon, between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains, where I learned to treasure not only the beauty of the environment around us, but also the fragility of it. When I worked on Capitol Hill for Pacific Northwest members of Congress, I learned more about the legal side of environmental issues and, as a local elected official, working on environmental issues was a very natural fit. Urban Fairfax County is a lot different than the county in which I grew up, but the need to protect our drinking water sources, air quality, tree canopy, and address stormwater, for example, is shared by counties, large and small, urban and rural, across our nation.
FACS: How have people of faith moved the ball forward on environmental work?
SG: I’ve been glad to see the faith community step forward recently to engage on environmental issues. Environmental education is one of the keys to protecting our resources, and the faith community can be helpful in “spreading the environmental gospel,” so to speak, connecting their mission to everyday life. Environmental issues rarely are even mentioned during political campaigns (especially at the state and national levels), but here is another way that the faith community can engage in bringing the issues forward.
FACS: Please tell us one or two environmental policy initiatives that you’re proud of.
SG: In 2004, on my motion, the Board of Supervisors adopted the first-ever 20 Year Environmental Vision Plan for Fairfax County, that originally was the concept of then-board chairman Gerry Connolly. The plan centers on two principles: (a) conservation of our limited natural resources must be interwoven into all governmental decisions, and (b) we must be committed to provide the necessary resources to protect our environment. The Plan has provided an excellent, and adaptable, template for many decisions and programs during the past decade-plus, but, again on my motion, the Board, in 2015, approved updating the Plan to incorporate new items that probably were not even thought about in 2004. The review and update of the Plan should be completed this summer.
I also am very proud of the work done at the regional level through the Chesapeake Bay Policy Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. I spearheaded the founding of that committee in 1998, served as its first chairperson, and continue to be a member of the committee. The committee focuses on activities that can be done individually and regionally to restore the Bay, and the most recent “report card” about the Bay shows significant improvement over time. It is a long, slow process, but submerged underwater vegetation (bay grasses) have returned, crabs and oysters are flourishing, the mainstem of the Bay is clearer, with fewer dead zones. We have much more to do, but hard work, including new policies and investments at the local and state levels, are paying off.
FACS: What advice would you give Northern Virginians who want to protect the environment?
SG: My advice to anyone who wants to protect the environment is to start at home. It’s fairly easy to make changes in your own household – recycling, managing the use of water, electricity, gas, etc. (the money you save in your utility bills can be reinvested in planting trees, etc. in your community). Don’t let emotion get in the way; learn the facts about conserving resources and figure out what works best for you and your household. From there, you can work with friends and neighbors to spread the word, get involved in interested community groups, and work, work, work. Success comes in mostly small steps over time, but the celebrations are worth it!
Faith Alliance would like to thank Supervisor Gross for her participation in the interview and her continued commitment to Fairfax County.