County making green effortsChester County commissioners are following in the wake of other governmental agencies across the nation in developing a plan to reduce the size of that figurative footprint, by formulating and then implementing ways it can cut down on the greenhouse gases emissions its operations are responsible for-and to try to convince individuals and corporations in the county to do the same.

The commissioners last week appointed a 10-member steering committee for a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Task Force that will be charged with making recommendations on making the county offices more green friendly.

The idea is to gather together environmental experts and activists to give the county a road map to reduce its carbon footprint, taking into account not only the "greenness" of the effort but its cost effectiveness, the commissioners said. The county could then pass along those ideas to corporations or individuals in the county.

The notion of a carbon footprint for an individual, agency or business has gained popularity in recent years. Generally defined, it is "a measure of the impact that humans have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide, " according to the Web site

By examining one's own personal carbon footprint-such as the car you drive, the kind of light bulbs you use or the way your house is heated, individuals and organizations can view their impact in contributing to global warming, and make adjustments.

Local governments have started examining their own footprints with the appointment of greenhouse gas reduction committees, like West Chester did. Earlier this month, the Montgomery County commissioners adopted a greenhouse gas reduction plan, the first by a county its size in Pennsylvania.

That plan identifies ways to reduce the county's greenhouse gas levels by 51 percent by 2025. It includes everything from asking workers to turn off their computers before leaving for home, to promoting mass-transit use and converting to energy-efficient homes and businesses.

Meanwhile, both Pennsylvania and New Jersey are working on statewide plans for greenhouse gas reduction.

In Chester County, the task force will have the benefit of having attorney Robert McKinstry of East Marlborough, as one of its members. McKinstry led the Montgomery County task force, said Steve Fromnick, the county's director of facilities, who will lead the task force here.

The steering committee includes Fromnick; McKinstry; Allison Duncan of the county Agricultural Development Council; Tom O'Donnell of Rettew & Associates, a local environmental scientist; Russell K. Rickets, a professor emeritus of physics at West Chester University; Charles Shorten, a WCU environmental health professor; Paul Spiegel, president of Practical Energy Solutions of West Chester; Dave Ward of the county planing commission; Bob Watts of the county's solid waste authority; and Victoria Will, Exelon Inc.'s vice president of environment and safety.

The full committee consists of 53 other individuals who will eventually be asked to join one of three, or possibly four subcommittees that will examine specific target areas, including transpiration and land use; agriculture forestry and waste management; and energy and industry.

The committee members include elected officials such as state Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith, D-156th, of West Goshen and Curt Schroder, R-155th, of East Brandywine; citizen activists such as John Johnson of the Chester County Fish and Game Commission and Christine Knapp of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future; and business and industry representatives such as Michael McGee of the Home Builders Association of Chester and Delaware Counties and Greg Carey of PECO.

Aichele said she believed the effort in Chester County will ultimately be stronger than the one in Montgomery County, partly because the task force will be able to rely on the work done earlier.

Outgoing Democratic Commissioner Patrick O'Donnell was enthusiastic about the creation of the committee and impressed at its membership, and was hopeful that the group could begin putting together a plan soon.

He said the county's efforts could also be used to lead the way for other governments, individuals or businesses to adopt their own plans.

Fromnick said he anticipates having the steering committee's first meeting next month and then setting up subcommittee meetings from there.

Keeping homeless students on track

It can be caused by a number of things-fire, eviction, running away-but the reality is that on any given day a number of Chester County children are homeless.

Terry Mullineax is the supervisor of the Homeless Children Initiative through the Chester County Intermediate Unit. It's her job to make sure homeless children are able to stay in school.

The program ensures that school districts comply with a federal law, the McKinney-Vento Act, which requires them to enroll homeless students immediately, regardless if they have necessary documents. The provision helps students who experienced a fire and lost all of their personal documents.

For the duration of their homelessness, the law also states children can attend either their original school or the school close to where they currently reside. Districts are also required to pitch-in for transportation. As soon as homeless students enroll, they are to receive free lunch daily.

The initiative also provides necessary school supplies, like backpacks, and helps children get new school clothes if needed.

Since September, the county program has helped roughly 200 students and provided 150 backpacks.

Mullineaux said generally low-income families are the more transient population. Contributing factors can be eviction, losing a lease, or having difficulties with another family they may be living with.

But finding shelter can be particularly difficult for families living in rural, wealthy areas, she said. There are well-known services in West Chester and Coatesville, but beyond that help is hard to find, she said.

Mullineaux recalled a time when seven county children were living in one hotel room because there was no shelter readily available.

-Staff and Journal Register News Services reports.

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