With the signing of a landmark clean energy bill today, Washington, D. C. mayor Muriel Bowser has established the city as a global leader in clean energy and efforts to combat climate change.
The law, known as the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018, mandates that 100% of the electricity sold in the city come from renewable energy sources by 2032. In addition, the law, which was signed at AGU Headquarters, also doubles the required amount of solar energy deployed in the District, makes significant improvements to the energy efficiency of existing buildings, provides energy bill assistance for low- and moderate-income residents, requires all public transportation and privately owned fleet vehicles to become emissions-free by 2045, and funds the DC Green Bank to attract private investment in clean energy projects.
At the bill’s signing ceremony, Bowser said that if the country is going to make progress on addressing climate change, cities and states need to lead the way.
Bowser also took a swipe at the Trump administration and President Donald Trump’s plan for the country to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. “We have in the last two-and-a-half years been called upon to lock arms with each other to protect our values. And it is a D.C. value that we care for the Earth, our environment, and we recognize that we are indeed stewards for the next generation of Washingtonians and Americans and people of the world. And we take that responsibility very seriously,” Bowser said.
“We are our nation’s capital, and it is our faces that we want the world to know as Washington, D. C., not those faces,” she said, distinguishing the city from the Trump administration. “That’s why we will continue to acknowledge that climate change is real, that we believe science, and that we will do all we can to make the world and our city a better place.”
Bowser and others at the signing pointed to AGU’s headquarters, the first net-zero building renovation in the District, as an example of meeting energy goals in combating climate change. AGU CEO and executive director Chris McEntee welcomed the mayor, saying that it was an honor for the signing to take place at AGU Headquarters “as the District steps forward to be a leader on renewable energy that the rest of the nation and the world can follow.” She added, “Climate change is real, the effects are impacting our lives today. Urgent action is needed and we are all part of the solution. Today is an important mile marker in that journey.”
Leading on Fighting Climate Change
The clean energy law is important “because it’s about the future,” Washington city council member Kenyan McDuffie told Eos. “It is about the generation that’s coming up behind us. It takes cities like the District of Columbia to lead the way, particularly when the federal government doesn’t,” said McDuffie, who was instrumental in shepherding the bill, which the city council unanimously approved.
Regarding climate change, McDuffie said, “the science is clear, we’ve got to do more, we’ve got to do better. I think what we’ve done in the District of Columbia has really put our legislation and our money where our mouths are.”
Advocacy Group Perspective
The mayor “is signing the strongest climate legislation of any state in the United States,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which played a lead role in advocating for the law. Tidwell said that D.C. should be considered a state, and that its population is bigger than several states.
The law, Tidwell told Eos, “is not only good for the people who live here—cleaner air, less impact on the climate—but it sets an example for other states of what can be done. We brought everyone together, we worked out all of our differences within the environmental community, the economic justice communities, the business community, and we passed the strongest climate bill in the nation.”
“Climate change is the most pressing problem of our time, and advancing the renewable energy transition is one of the most important tools we have to prevent its worst impacts,” Howard Crystal, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, told Eos. “This law not only advances clean energy in D.C.; it sends a message around the country and the world about how eminently achievable it is to make this transition quickly.”
Crystal, who said he has “never been prouder to call myself a D.C. resident and to see D.C. leading on protecting our climate,” said that he hopes that implementation of the law goes smoothly. “Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry and other interests vested in the current energy system will not go quietly into the night. While this is an incredible step forward, I’m sure there will be efforts to undermine it, but I’m also confident that the incredible activism that got this bill passed will ensure that if changes are made, it [will be] to further strengthen the law and not to weaken it.”
Support from the Business Community
Marc Battle, vice president of government and external affairs with the Potomac Electric Power Corporation in Washington, D.C., told Eos that the law is “very important” and that the energy company is “very happy to be supportive” of it. The law “establishes the District of Columbia as a leader in fighting climate change and reducing carbon and making our city and our world a better place.”
The biggest hurdle to achieving the goals of the law is “ensuring that there is sufficient renewable energy to supply D.C. by the deadline that we set for ourselves,” Battle said. “The District is a small place. We don’t have room to expand. There is a limited area for rooftop solar deployment. So we really have to get creative in how we roll out renewable energy to make sure that we hit our goals.”
“What this bill really means is that we are starting the hard part of the District doing its part to reduce carbon emissions so that we can say to the rest of the planet that we are trying to do it and here is how we are doing it,” Chris Weiss, executive director of DC Environmental Network, told Eos. “What’s really important is that we will 3 or 4 years from now know how far we are towards putting the policies in place to make those carbon reductions happen.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer
Showstack, R. (2019), Mayor signs landmark clean energy law for D.C., Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO114189. Published on 18 January 2019.
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