WASHINGTON, D.C. — The District of Columbia joined a growing list of U.S. cities vowing to continue or strengthen their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.
As the nation’s capital, D.C. has a special obligation to create policies and implement programs that protect the environment, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday at a signing ceremony near the U.S. Capitol. “Today, I’m signing a mayoral order that affirms the District’s support for the Paris climate accord,” the mayor said.
More than 175 mayors, representing 51 million people, have committed to honor the Paris agreement’s goals since Trump exited from the international agreement, Bowser noted. “We know these mayors are both Democrats and Republicans. They’re from small cities and large cities and everything in between,” she said. “We are confident that we will, no matter what the decisions are at the federal level, continue to form the policies that will help to protect our earth.”
The task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will not be easy, especially if many of the provisions in Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget are approved, Bowser said. Trump’s budget, for example, would get rid of Energy Star, a government labeling program for energy-efficient appliances and consumer products.
Environmental activists welcomed the city’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement. “We applaud Mayor Bowser’s re-commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Camila Thorndike, carbon pricing coordinator for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Now, we are looking forward to working with Mayor Bowser to fulfill her pledge.”
Thorndike is one of the organizers of a campaign in the District to charge polluters for their carbon emissions and rebate a large part of the revenue back to residents of the city. The proposal, called “carbon fee-and-rebate,” would be the nation’s first-ever carbon fee that rebates the overwhelming share of the revenue to a jurisdiction’s residents.
The policy “would increase revenues and address inequality while getting us on track to achieving our climate goals,” Thorndike said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.
In response to a question about whether the city would consider implementing a carbon tax or approve a program similar to the carbon-fee-and-rebate, Bowser said the District’s Department of Energy and Environment has been granted permission “to put all issues on the table.”
Mustafa Ali, senior vice president of climate, environmental justice, and community revitalization for the Hip Hop Caucus, was pleased to see “leadership happening on the local level when we don’t have leadership happening on the federal level.”
“It’s going to make a real difference.”
“It’s going to make a real difference,” Ali, who earlier this year resigned as the head of environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency after a 24-year career, told ThinkProgress on Monday. “It helps folks get engaged in the process. Local citizens seeing their local officials saying that this is important and together we can make change is super-important.”
At the ceremony, Tommy Wells, director of the District’s Department of Energy and Environment, said heating, cooling, and lighting D.C.’s buildings create 74 percent of all greenhouse gases produced in the city.
Late last year, Bowser joined a delegation of U.S. mayors who attended a conference in Mexico City where city leaders from around the world reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the goals set in the Paris agreement. “Today is part of making good on that commitment to reassure them that we will do this,” Wells said.
The District has reduced greenhouse gases by to 20 to 24 percent since 2006, primarily due to power plant operators switching from the burning of coal to natural gas. The city also is pursuing a renewable portfolio standard of 50 percent by 2032. “The easy part is happening through our renewable portfolio standard,” Wells said. “But the hard part is in front of us and that’s to get to a full 50 percent reduction by 2032.”
“Cities are the problems and cities are the solution.”
The District has more Energy Star and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings than any other metropolitan area in the country, Wells said. “Our city is doing well, but we’re going to have to double-down, especially now where 70 percent of all greenhouse gases are caused by cities in the world,” he said. “Cities are the problems and cities are the solution.”
Along with assessing the energy output of appliances, the Energy Star program helps cities measure greenhouse gas emissions caused by the operation of buildings across the nation, Wells said. “We will have to figure out how to replace Energy Star for bench-marking buildings should the president’s budget hold,” he noted.
The General Services Administration has worked with the District on designing buildings to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “So far, GSA has been a good partner,” Wells said. “We have to wait and see if they are going to change what they are doing” with Trump as president, he added.
Last Thursday, Trump officially announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris agreement, citing the deal’s failure “to serve American interests.” Since then, cities and states across the country have rushed to assert that they will not back away from plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On Monday, a total of 1,219 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities from across the United States or with significant operations in the country, signed a declaration proclaiming their intent to continue fighting climate change.
“The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change,” the declaration states. “Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2°C and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.”
Also on Monday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said his state will join a dozen other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is intended to follow the tenets of the Paris agreement despite Trump’s decision to withdraw. “If the federal government insists on abdicating leadership on this issue, it will be up to the American people to step forward — and in Virginia we are doing just that,” McAuliffe said in a statement.
In addition to Virginia, the U.S. Climate Alliance is composed of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
In the District of Columbia, Bowser noted the city has already adopted a plan called Climate Ready D.C. that identifies the impacts a changing climate will have on the District and provides a list of action items for the city.
Among the action items in the plan are identifying at-risk facilities and developing adaptation or retirement plans for those facilities. The city also plans to conduct distribution system planning order to identify the best strategies for stabilizing the power grid with distributed energy resources.
Earlier this year, Bowser proposed a Green Bank for the District as a way to expand renewable energy, lower energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create green jobs. If approved, the District would be the first city in the country to establish such a funding mechanism known as a Green Bank.
“As the nation’s capital, we need to lead the way when it comes to protecting and preserving the environment,” Bowser said. “By creating a Green Bank, we will create more jobs for D.C. residents, which will allow us to continue our push for inclusive prosperity, and we will take an important step toward reaching the sustainability goals set forth in Climate Ready D.C.”