D.C. Just Passed A Historic Bill Mandating 100 Percent Renewable Power By 2032

The unanimously approved legislation puts the nation's capital at the vanguard of climate policy -- even as the federal government is going in reverse.
Joe Sohm/Visions of America via Getty Images

City lawmakers in the District of Columbia voted unanimously Tuesday to pass legislation mandating 100 percent renewable electricity in the capital by 2032.

The Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018 doubles Washington’s current policy, which says that by 14 years from now, the nation’s capital must be getting half its electricity from zero-emissions sources like solar and wind.

The legislation, which is expected to become law, increases fees on electricity from coal and gas and establishes a task force to set some of the nation’s most aggressive energy-efficiency standards for existing buildings.

It also goes beyond the utility sector, requiring that all public transportation and privately owned fleet vehicles emit zero carbon dioxide by 2045, putting it in line with California’s newly adopted auto emissions target. The provision applies to fleets with more than 50 passengers, according to Utility Dive, meaning the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft are included.

“This bill should be a boost to advocates nationwide,” Camila Thorndike, D.C. campaign director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund, said in a statement. “Finally some good news out of Washington. We did it.”

The legislation, which would apply to federal government buildings including the White House, comes as the Trump administration is bolstering the oil and gas industries and rolling back nearly every major policy aimed at reducing emissions.

“Even though by ourselves we are a small jurisdiction, we can serve and have served as a model for other jurisdictions,” Mary Cheh, the Democratic councilwoman who authored the original bill, said in a statement. “More importantly, we are in a loose association with other local and state jurisdictions so that even though the federal government is in default of international climate accords, we will meet them.”

The city generates little of its own electricity, meaning it buys renewable energy credits to meet its power goals. It’s made significant progress over the past few years. In 2015, the city’s credits went mostly to electricity generated from biomass, including wood and the pulp-based substance called black liquor, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in 2016. By last year, nearly 64 percent of those credits went to wind, according to a Public Service Commission report from May.

D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh (D) speaks during the 2015 District of Columbia Inauguration ceremony at the Convention Center in Washington.
D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh (D) speaks during the 2015 District of Columbia Inauguration ceremony at the Convention Center in Washington.

Just as the city council was voting on the bill, the District of Columbia announced plans to join nine northeastern states ― Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia ― to form a regional cap-and-trade market to limit vehicle emissions early next year.

The bill’s passage puts Washington at the vanguard of municipal climate policy, and sets an example other large cities are likely to follow.

Across the U.S., two states and more than 90 cities have pledged to adopt 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the Sierra Club. Six cities ― Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Georgetown, Texas; Greensburg, Kansas; Kodiak Island, Alaska; and Rock Port, Missouri ― have already hit their targets.

But no major city has adopted as far-reaching a climate policy as Washington.

New York City, the nation’s largest and most economically influential metropolis, is considering a bill to establish strict new energy-efficiency standards for big buildings, its largest source of climate pollution. The real estate industry and its allies are fighting the effort. New York also sued big oil companies last year ― a case now pending appeal ― and is moving to divest its $200 billion pension funds of oil and gas stocks.

In October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading climate research body, determined that world governments must halve global emissions in 12 years to avoid warming of 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures. Beyond that level of warming, climate change is forecast to be catastrophic, particularly for coastal cities like Washington and New York.

The congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, a report drafted by scientists at 13 federal agencies, confirmed many of those findings last month.

“This bill is among the most ambitious pieces of climate legislation in the country, and today it became law because the D.C. community demanded it,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said Tuesday in a statement. “The decisions made and policies discussed within the nation’s capital affect the country, and the world.”

Popular in the Community