DC Environmental Legislation Brings Changes in 2019 and Beyond


While DC’s Clean Energy bill was the most far-reaching environmental legislation of 2018 – ensuring that the District runs on 100 percent renewable energy by 2032 – several other bills were passed during the year that will improve DC’s environment and the health of its residents.

The Leaf Blower Regulation Amendment Act prohibits the sale or use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers as of Jan. 1, 2022, with fines of up to $500 for any violation. Under the legislation, gas-powered blowers will be allowed on federal land.

Members of the group QuietCleanDC advocated for the legislation, arguing that gas-powered blowers negatively impact air quality and create harmful levels of noise pollution for residents, but especially for those operating the machines. Several area landscape companies testified in favor of the bill, noting that battery-powered leaf blower technology is rendering gas-powered machines redundant.

Grif Johnson of QuietClean DC is thrilled with the bill’s passage. “Most people don’t realize the negative impact that gas-powered leaf blowers have on our overall air quality. These two-stroke engines emit high levels of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. While all of us are impacted by these emissions, the folks operating these machines bear the brunt of the damage and the noise they produce. We’re thrilled that the District has adopted this forward-thinking legislation.”

Then, in May, the DC Council unanimously approved the Residential Composting Incentives Amendment Act, which establishes a rebate of up to $75 for residents who purchase and install a home composting or vermicomposting (worm) system. The rebate should be available sometime in 2019. To help ensure proper compost management, residents will need to participate in a short training course to receive the rebate.

The bill aims to promote residential composting while diverting food waste from DC’s waste stream. The composting program will be implemented through DC’s Department of Public Works (DPW). Various compost bin models are being tested to identify those that are best suited to DC’s urban environment, with an eye toward rat resistance.

Finally, DC’s Save Good Food Act encourages food recovery efforts by providing tax incentives to residents and businesses donating food to food-providing organizations. The bill will also help clarify some of DC’s confusing and strict food labeling laws while keeping usable food out of the landfill.

The bill has broad support from businesses, nonprofits and residents. Ona Balkus, DC’s acting food policy director, believes it will benefit residents. “This bill will encourage more DC businesses and residents to donate healthy food to those in need, keep good food out of the landfill and clarify confusing laws around food donation. It’s a significant step in helping DC become a national leader in sustainability.”

Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) is pleased to see these bills move forward. “I’ve had a great working relationship with my colleague Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment and is an environmental leader. I worked with her on the landmark Clean Energy DC legislation to set a goal of 100-percent renewable energy for the District by 2032 as well as on legislation to test for lead in schools, rec centers and daycares, and another bill making it easier to install solar panels in residential co-ops. I’m looking forward to what we can do in 2019 and 2020 to keep moving our city forward to prepare for and mitigate climate change and have a healthy environment.”

What can we expect in terms of environmental progress in 2019? DC Environmental Network (DCEN) Director Chris Weiss notes that 2019 “is going to be a challenging year for the District. DC’s DPW director, Chris Shorter, is moving on, and we need to ensure that the agency continues to focus on recycling, developing a curbside composting program and piloting and eventually implementing a Pay-As-You-Throw program. DC still lags behind many other municipalities when it comes to its waste reduction efforts, and we’ll never meet our 2032 goal of 80-percent waste reduction unless we focus on these efforts. Now that we’ve addressed plastic bags, polystyrene packaging and straws, DC really needs a bottle bill to reduce the buildup of plastic bottles that clog our rivers.”

So, as we begin to settle into 2019, we may continue to feel slighted by our lack of representation in Congress, but at least we can take solace in knowing that we live in one of the most environmentally progressive cities in the US. Maybe one day we’ll have a bottle bill that will make DC even greener!


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