D.C. Councilmember Introduces Climate Bill that Excludes Carbon Price

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Groups Express Surprise that Bill does Not Include a Carbon Price Given Months of Advocacy and Broad Grassroots Support

WASHINGTON, DC — On Tuesday, July 10th, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced an “omnibus” bill on climate change that falls short of what many advocates had pushed for. But the bill still includes several landmark features that significantly enhance the city’s commitment to clean energy. What the bill does NOT include is a clear and robust “price on carbon pollution,” as requested by an 86-group coalition of environmental and justice groups over the past two years. Instead, at the suggestion of local utility Washington Gas, Cheh is increasing the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) surcharge by a modest amount. The final effect of the bill is that all dirty energy is made slightly more expensive in the city, dirty electricity is phased out completely by 2032, and the revenue raised from the bill — an estimated $26 million in year one — would be invested in green infrastructure and programs. Similar to a carbon tax in Boulder, Colorado, the fee proposed in Cheh’s bill would apply to electricity generated by fossil fuels. It goes beyond the Boulder approach by including a fee on natural gas and fuel oil too, though also modest. It also increases DC’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to require that 100 percent of the District’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2032, and requires suppliers to purchase a high percentage of their energy through long-term renewable power purchase agreements. This would establish the strongest such goal in the country. It would also establish strong building efficiency standards and would allocate 20 percent of the funds raised by the energy fee to make energy improvements for low-income households. The bill would increase by 100 percent the city’s existing — though small — SETF surcharge on electricity. The new fee on natural gas and heating fuels would be double that on electricity, but still very modest. The bill, titled the “Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018,” was co-introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Trayon White Sr. (Ward 8), and Charles Allen (Ward 6). It was also co-sponsored by Councilmembers David Grosso (At-Large) and Vincent Gray (Ward 7). In response, CCAN Action Fund Director Mike Tidwell issued the following statement:

“To our surprise and disappointment, Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced a climate bill that does not include a clear, transparent, and effective ‘price on carbon pollution.’ Instead, the Councilmember is putting forward a good bill — but a bill that is significantly scaled-back at the suggestion of Washington Gas. The Cheh bill will cut emissions and create investments in green infrastructure. But it misses the opportunity — as proposed by a broad coalition of experts and advocates — to more aggressively ‘price’ carbon pollution while fully protecting low- and moderate-income residents AND stimulating the local economy.

“While we are still evaluating the features of Cheh’s bill, it is heartening to see it follows many of the principles that environmental advocates have embraced. It is strong on driving down carbon emissions, includes the strongest renewable electricity standard in the country, and makes some effort — but not enough — to ensure that low-income Washingtonians can prosper under this policy. And the building code mandate under the bill could set a precedent among other cities throughout the country.

“While CCAN Action Fund regrets that Councilmember Cheh ultimately ignored the best and most equitable approach to climate policy — which is advocated by the 86 groups behind the ‘Put A Price On It’ coalition — it is clear that she has chosen a ‘runner-up’ approach that is comprehensive and begins to address fairness. Clearly, none of this would have been possible without the relentless advocacy of the ‘Put A Price On It’ coalition.

“We now call on all our DC Councilmembers to ensure that a strong bill passes that protects our communities and significantly reduces emissions. If so, we are confident this could inspire other cities to take similar action.”

Additional Information From Cheh’s press release, major provisions in the legislation include:

  • New Building Emissions Standards – The Building Energy Performance Standard Program for privately-owned and District government buildings will be the first of its kind in the country. Implemented by the Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), the program will guide the District’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, most often large commercial buildings, in retrofitting their buildings to become more energy efficient.
  • Transitioning to Renewable Energy Sources – Currently, Pepco customers must opt-in to purchasing energy from renewable sources. The “Clean Energy DC Act” would flip that option so that residents must opt-out of purchasing renewable energy. The legislation also requires that 100% of electricity sold in the District come from renewable sources by 2032 and, over the next three years, 80% of the standard offer service electricity be purchased via long-term contracts with renewable sources.
  • Funding local sustainability initiatives – To fund the Green Finance Authority, commonly known as the District’s Green Bank, and strengthen funding available for low-incoming energy assistance, this bill will increase the SETF fee for electricity and natural gas consumption. It does so in a way that will result in less than a $1 increase to residents’ average monthly electric bills and about a $2.10 increase to residents’ average monthly gas bills. 20% of the generated funds will be used by DOEE to provide relief to low-income residents struggling to pay energy bills.
  • Transportation Emissions –Once passed, this legislation will direct the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue rules that make the District’s vehicle excise tax amount dependent upon fuel efficiency, therefore incentivizing the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. The bill will also authorize the Mayor to establish a greenhouse gas fee on motor fuel if Maryland or Virginia also do so and authorizes the Mayor to join in any forthcoming regional transportation-sector greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.

A copy of the legislation is available here: CleanEnergy DC Omnibus. ###