Q&A: Roger Berliner, Montgomery County Councilmember

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Roger Berliner was first elected to the Montgomery County Council in November 2006 as the District 1 representative for the Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac, Kensington, and Poolesville areas. At the regional level, he serves on the COG Board of Directors and is the Chairman of  COG’s Climate Energy and Environment Policy Committee. In this Region Forward Q & A, Berliner discusses among other topics: sustainability, energy conservation, and a regional leader that inspires him.

What got you interested in public service?

I have always felt that being a public servant was a high calling, I have been drawn to public policy, and I aspired then and now to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

What brought you to this region?  

I came to the region during my senior year at Dartmouth College to see if I could land an internship on Capitol Hill.  I was fortunate to land a position as a speech writer for a congressman from North Carolina (Nick Galifinakis) who was running for the Senate.  The following year I returned as a Special Assistant to a newly elected congressman from my hometown, Cincinnati.  But for a brief sojourn in California to serve the California State Legislature, I have been here ever since.

What do you think are the region’s biggest challenges?

I think our region’s biggest challenges are increasing transit options and affordable housing, becoming a more sustainable region, and reducing the large and growing disparity in incomes.

What green initiatives have you worked to promote in Montgomery County?

My professional life as a lawyer and on Capitol Hill focused on energy and the environment.  I am now privileged to serve as Chair of our County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee.  I was pleased to have been the lead sponsor of a number of initiatives that have become law in our County, including setting a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, providing tax credits for the installation of solar and energy conservation equipment, requiring new homes to be built so that they use less energy, requiring existing homes at time of sale to provide 12 months of utility bills to the new buyers. I have also worked on existing programs to reduce energy consumption-allowing existing homes and commercial buildings access to favorable loans to reduce energy consumption and increase renewable energy options, requiring our planners to take into account the carbon footprint of new developments and ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled, reducing the use of SUVs in our county’s pool of vehicles and increasing the use of alternative fuels for automobiles.

What can we do as individuals to be more sustainable?

There is a lot we can do as individuals to be more sustainable — most of us can choose to buy renewable power rather than coal based power. Installing solar on your home is a real option now, given that many companies will put it on your roof without cost to you. Retrofitting your home with energy conservation measures can help you reduce your energy bills. Turning off your computer and cable boxes at night. Buying a hybrid or all electric vehicle. Bringing reusable bags with you when you shop so that you don’t use plastic bags. And using organic material rather than pesticides when you are treating your lawn.

What is the single most important thing our region can do to conserve energy?

Our buildings are the biggest consumers of electricity.  Our region needs to embrace programs that will incentivize homeowners and commercial building owners to make energy savings improvements to their property.

How have your years working on Capitol Hill influenced your work at COG & the Montgomery County Council?

My years on the Hill taught me so much that is valuable to my work at COG and the Montgomery County Council. First, I love my work as a legislator.  I learned the art of drafting legislation, working with various stakeholders, and creating coalitions while I was on the Hill.   I also learned how to communicate what is important.  One of my most favorite stories was from my days as a new legislative assistant to Senator Howard Metzenbaum.  I had just given him a 3 page memo on an important issue, a memo I was quite proud of.  He looked at it briefly and handed it back to me saying, “Roger, if you can’t tell me what I need to know on 1 page in bullets, you don’t know it and I won’t read it.”

Who is a past or present DC area leader (elected or non-elected) that inspires you?

Abe Pollin exemplified a life well lived.  His decision to build an arena in DC revitalized the city; his philanthropic work touched so many lives throughout the region; and he was most humble notwithstanding his extraordinary success as a businessman and stature in the community.

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