DC Council Passes Nation’s Most Progressive Clean Energy Bill

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Members of the DC environmental community celebrate the passage of the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018. Photo: Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) Climate Action Fund

While DC may not have a vote in Congress, it does have the most far-reaching climate legislation in the country. On Tuesday, Dec. 18, the DC Council unanimously approved the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018. This bill is unprecedented in the US and will change the way DC sources its energy, while providing incentives for clean and renewable energy and vehicle purchasing.

What does the bill do?

  • It requires the District to transition residential, business, and DC and federal government infrastructure 100 percent to electricity generated from wind or solar by 2032.
  • It mandates green efficiency standards for existing buildings, which account for 74 percent of the District’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It increases the current Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) utility fee (included on Pepco bills), which will generate additional funds to finance renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. It also funds programs to help low-income residents transition to more sustainable energy and creates a clean-energy workforce development program for District residents.
  • It encourages the purchase of more energy efficient (electric and hybrid) vehicles by reducing the excise tax on these vehicles while increasing the tax for non-energy-efficient vehicles.
  • It authorizes the mayor to participate in regional programs designed to reduce greenhouse gases.
  • It requires “private vehicle-for-hire” companies (Lyft, Uber, taxis) to develop “a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan” by 2022, with a goal of increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles used by these fleets.

Tommy Wells, director of the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE), is thrilled with this legislation. “The new comprehensive energy bill passed by the Council implements Mayor Bowser’s recent CleanEnergy DC plan to keep the city on track with our commitment to the Paris Accord to curb global warming. It’s an exciting bill, and the first in the nation to establish and enforce building energy performance standards on existing infrastructure. The bill also fully funds the new DC Greenbank to help retrofit buildings, especially multi-family buildings, and help preserve affordable housing while improving the environment.”

Many environmental groups across the District joined forces and worked with Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) to draft, lobby and garner support for the bill’s passage.

Mark Rodeffer, committee chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, notes, “The Sierra Club and our local environmental allies have spent incalculable time and energy working on this bill, and we are thrilled that it was unanimously approved by the DC Council. Mayor Bowser committed the District to the terms of the Paris Climate Accord, but we weren’t on track to meet those targets. With this bill, we’ll be on a solid path to substantial climate pollution reductions.”

Others, while supportive of the bill, wish it had gone farther. “For the last decade, the District’s sustainability community, arguably led by Councilmember Cheh and DOEE, has steadily moved forward with the creation of energy infrastructure and policies necessary for the implementation of this landmark, nation-leading, 100 percent renewable energy sources bill,” says Chris Weiss, executive director of the DC Environmental Network (DCEN), which helped coordinate coalition activities in support of the bill.

Weiss continues: “DCEN, and many climate organizations and activists, spent three years advocating for a carbon fee and rebate, believing it represented the fastest path to the greatest reduction of carbon emissions. We failed to convince decision makers to take that step at this time. In the next decade we may have to revisit that tool, but in the meantime, we are so very proud of the DC government and sustainability community, including elements of the business sector, for coalescing behind this legal commitment and hopeful statement for our nation’s capital city and the planet.”

The Clean Energy Act is only one of several initiatives that the Council has recently passed with an eye to reducing carbon emissions. Earlier in December, it passed legislation regulating leaf blowers due to their negative impacts on operator health, emissions and the environment, as well as legislation incentivizing residential composting and food donations to keep food out of landfills, where it creates methane. Meanwhile, to further reduce waste across the District and in rivers, DC began implementing a plastic straw and stirrer ban as of Jan. 1.

DC is truly becoming a great environmental model for cities around the world.

 

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member and the Conservation Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.