of the Sierra Club
Before the DC Council Committee on Housing
On the Green New Deal for Housing Act (B24-0802)
November 22, 2022
Thank you, Councilmember Bonds, for holding this hearing today on the Green New Deal for Housing Act (B24-0802). And thank you, Councilmember Lewis George, for introducing this important legislation.
My name is Mark Rodeffer and I’m testifying on behalf of the Sierra Club. We are the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with chapters in all 50 states and DC. The Sierra Club has approximately 3,000 dues paying-members in DC, and tackling climate change is our members’ top priority.
The Sierra Club advocates for climate-friendly affordable housing accessible to all. We support preservation of existing affordable housing, building new affordable housing in dense and transit-accessible communities, and ensuring that affordable housing is powered by clean and affordable energy and not saddled with the increasing costs of dirty fossil fuels.
Protecting DC Residents from Skyrocketing Fossil Fuel Costs
A new report from the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel forecasts that the cost of fracked gas supplied by Washington Gas will be up to 10 times higher in 2050 than it was in 2021.
Maryland Office of People's Counsel forecast of 2050 fracked gas prices
Maryland People’s Counsel David Lapp said of the numbers, “our estimates are generally conservative.” He stated that Baltimore’s gas utility “acknowledges the unsustainability of maintaining its gas distribution system.” The cost of fracked gas is increasing now, hurting many families as they heat their homes this winter, and it will only get worse in coming years and decades.
DC must protect affordable housing residents against unaffordable dirty fuel costs. The Green New Deal for Housing Act shields residents in the social housing proposed in the legislation from rising dirty energy costs by requiring that social housing be net zero energy, meaning the buildings must be highly energy efficient and use little energy, maximize on-site renewable energy generation, and have no energy from combustion or other sources that emit greenhouse gases.
Ensuring Clean and Affordable Energy
Since Councilmember Lewis George introduced the Green New Deal for Housing Act, the DC Council unanimously passed and the mayor signed the Clean Energy DC Building Code Act, which requires all newly constructed buildings to be net zero by 2026. Section 2 (a) (3) of the DC Building Code Act defines net zero as requiring:
- Renewable energy shall be generated at the building wherever feasible;
- To the extent a building procures electricity from off-site sources, the building may not use renewable energy credits for electricity that does not directly serve the building; and
- On-site fuel combustion shall not be permitted for the provision of thermal energy to the building.
The Sierra Club urges the Council to amend the Green New Deal for Housing Act by stating that any social housing built in DC will comply with the net zero requirements from the DC Building Act, even if the social housing is built before the 2026 deadline contained in the Building Code Act.
Improving Indoor Air Quality
Net zero social housing will reduce indoor air pollution. When appliances burn fracked gas in our homes, they fill indoor air with many of the same pollutants as car exhaust – carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), particulate matter, and even formaldehyde. This can result in aggravated respiratory symptoms and higher susceptibility to lung infections, a 42% increased risk of children developing asthma, and IQ and learning deficits in children. One study found that asthma rates in children living in homes with gas stoves are similar to those of children living with cigarette smokers. Poor indoor air quality has a disproportionate impact Black and lower-income communities, with children in Ward 8 being 10 times more likely to go to the hospital because of an asthma attack than children in wealthier areas of DC. To protect public health, we must eliminate indoor fossil fuel combustion in our homes. This bill does exactly that for social housing.
DC has faced a housing affordability crisis for years. No single piece of legislation will solve the problem, but the Green New Deal for Housing Act, if passed, will reduce displacement, lower housing costs, improve public health, and protect social housing residents from indoor air pollution and higher utility bills caused by dirty energy. The Sierra Club asks that the Housing Committee quickly approve this legislation.
Thank you again, Councilmember Bonds, for the opportunity to testify today, and thank you, Councilmember Lewis George, for introducing this transformative legislation.