The Washington, D.C. Council voted unanimously in favor of a landmark climate change bill on Tuesday. The bill requires that all electricity in the district be generated by renewable sources by 2032. It also places a surcharge on the use of fossil fuels in order to accelerate the transition to clean energy.
“This bill is historic,” Councilmember Mary Cheh (D), who represents Ward 3, and was the architect of the Clean Energy D.C. Act, said ahead of the vote. “It will place the District of Columbia… at the national forefront of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and achieve 100 renewable electricity.”
The Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018, introduced in September, requires that all businesses, homes, and municipal operations across D.C. run on 100 percent renewable electricity within 14 years — including the White House.
In order to meet that deadline, the city will create stricter building efficiency standards and raise fees on “dirty energy” sources like coal and natural gas, using the subsequent funds for renewable energy projects and to assist low-income city residents who may be hit disproportionately by the fossil fuel surcharge.
Activists have called the effort the nation’s strongest renewable electricity standard. It puts D.C. on the fastest timeline towards 100 percent renewable electricity of any city or state in the country, according to the D.C. Climate Coalition.
Passing this bill is important, said Reverend Lennox Yearwood from the Hip Hop Caucus during a press conference, because other “cities will look upon the District of Columbia as a model for transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy.”
“As much as the climate deniers [in D.C.] want to deny climate change,” he continued, “their own energy will be based on clean energy going forward.”
But, as Yearwood emphasized, if other areas don’t follow, it is “game over for future generations.”
Similar efforts to transition away from fossil fuel-generated electricity are underway elsewhere in the country. In September, California passed a law requiring the state to use 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045; an executive order also requires the state to become carbon neutral by that date. And Hawaii passed similar laws in June. Meanwhile, Rhode Island aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The ambitious D.C. bill comes amid mounting scientific reports warning of the impacts of climate change. And it was passed in a town that is currently home to prominent climate science deniers — including President Donald Trump — who have long been working to undermine climate action.
“The guy in the house a couple of blocks away has abdicated complete leadership in how we are moving the country forward,” Councilmember Charles Allen (D), who represents Ward 6, said during Tuesday’s vote. He stressed that as a result, it is up to cities and states to lead the way on climate action.
Last year, following Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, D.C. joined more than 175 other cities in pledging to uphold the Paris targets.
D.C.’s new clean energy law is the result of over a year’s worth of meetings and back and forth amendments. And despite compromises and differences on some of the details — including an amendment backed by district energy company Pepco — “the underlying legislation is groundbreaking,” said Allen.
This sentiment was echoed by Cheh. Explaining the importance of the legislation, she said, “We’re in this because we’re in default of the federal government doing what it should be doing. We’re doing on a local level collectively what we can [with other jurisdictions]… it’s a moral imperative.”
“Unless we take action, and it has to be collectively with all these other jurisdictions because again the federal government has abandoned us,” she continued, “it will leave a catastrophe for our grandchildren.”
The bill now heads to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for a signature; a supporter of climate action, Bowser is expected to sign it.