Bowser's Proposed Clean Energy Budget Cuts and Energy Efficiency Delays Must be Stopped

Testimony of Mark Rodeffer
Sierra Club DC Chapter
Budget Hearing for the Department of Energy and the Environment
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
April 6, 2023


Councilmember Allen, thank you for the opportunity to testify at this budget hearing on the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). My name is Mark Rodeffer and I am testifying on behalf of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. The DC Chapter has about 3,000 dues-paying members. We have chapters in all 50 states.

While we are pleased to see funding for air pollution monitoring in the Mayor’s FY24 Proposed Budget, we are disappointed that the proposed budget would defund so many other crucial environmental programs, from Zero Waste initiatives like the “Ditch the Disposables” program to Clean Water initiatives relating to lead line replacement and Clean Energy initiatives like the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund. The District cannot afford to delay or defund such programs. Each plays an important part in transitioning the District to a more just and sustainable future. We recommend substantial changes to the proposed budget for DOEE to safeguard the interests of DC residents and to live up to the District’s climate commitments.


Reusable Foodware Grants

The DOEE “Ditch the Disposables” small grant program was established by the 2020 Zero Waste Omnibus Act to provide incentives for food service entities to switch from disposable to reusable foodware. Since it became operational, only two years ago, the program has enabled some 22 food service entities to adopt reusable foodware and prevent single-use plastic waste generation, goals we fully support. Sadly, the Mayor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Budget includes no allocation to continue this program. We understand that DOEE would like to see the program continue, and included a budget enhancement request which was removed prior to publication of the Mayor’s FY24 Proposed Budget. This same scenario unfolded in fiscal year 2023. To avoid such budget ping-pong, we strongly urge the Council to provide continuous funding for this important program. We also request your support, Councilmember Allen, to expand current levels of modest funding (currently approximately $250,000 annually) for a program that is at the forefront of waste prevention strategies.

The Department of Public Works is expected to publish the Zero Waste DC Plan this month. Although the environmental community, like the public, has not seen the latest draft, the version shared in December called for a major transition to reusable foodware. The Ditch the Disposables program would play a vital role in helping make that transition to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills, incinerators, and waterways. Ditch the Disposables has enjoyed some early successes but two years is not sufficient for the program to prove its usefulness. It needs long-term funding and support from the Council to help meet the District’s goal of diverting 80 percent of solid waste away from landfill and waste-to-energy by 2032.

Single-use plastic bag ban

It’s time for the District to adopt a ban on single-use plastic bags and to support residents to adopt reusable grocery bags, as urged by residents and the environmental community alike. The current five-cent bag fee has caused the District to introduce between 40 to 50 million new single-use plastic bags into the environment each year. These are bags that can’t be placed in curbside recycling.

Councilmember Allen, in the recent DOEE Performance Oversight Hearing, you expressed concern at the loss of approximately $2 million annual revenue from the bag fee which helps to fund the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund (Anacostia River Fund). As a follow-up, the Sierra Club outlined a number of proposals for your consideration. We noted that single-use plastic bags cost the District money. Plastic bags clog our recycling equipment and stormwater drains. Like single-use food ware, we have to pay to clean them up and to haul them to the landfill and incinerator. Banning plastic bags will save the government all of these expenses. In addition, the District will continue to collect the five-cent fee on paper bags. Consumers have demonstrated their willingness to pay this fee. This revenue, like revenue through greater enforcement efforts, can both continue to fund the Anacostia River Fund. DOEE’s own data shows that when it resumed bag fee enforcement after the COVID-related suspension, bag fees increased by almost $120,000 in a single month!  We welcome an opportunity to discuss these ideas in further detail. Part of this discussion should include efforts to support low-income residents to use reusable bags. 


Lead Line Replacement

As the Sierra Club has testified in the past, the Council has been appropriately responsive to the need for lead service line replacement with legislation and budget authorizations. We have called on the Council to coordinate legislative initiatives and ensure that the local and federal funding for this critical need is used effectively to protect the public and remediate remaining lead exposures in water service lines. The Mayor’s proposed budget completely fails in this regard, zeroing out $10 million for lead service line replacement. The District has had some of the highest lead levels in the United States for the past twenty years, with an estimated 42,000 lead pipes in the ground and housing stock that is full of lead-bearing interior faucets, fixtures, and lead pipes. DC Water's own compliance sampling numbers and voluntary sampling from across the District suggest that there is lead coming out of most of our drinking water taps. No amount of lead is safe, and eliminating lead from the District’s water system is a moral and social justice imperative. The swift removal of lead service lines must be a priority in the budget; anything less is unconscionable.

FloodSmart Homes

The Sierra Club opposes the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate funding in FY24 for the FloodSmart Homes program to upgrade homes that are at high risk for flooding. This pilot program provides the opportunity for homeowners to obtain an assessment and specific recommendations for reducing flood risk to their homes. In the current fiscal year, DOEE has a budget of $2.6 million to provide the most useful and cost-effective upgrades at little to no cost to the homeowner, but no funding is provided in the budget for upgrades in the next fiscal year.

There are 1,000 homes in Wards 7 and 8 that are at highest risk because they are in a Special Flood Hazard Area, also known as the 100-year floodplain. Flood risk is increasing significantly in the District due to climate change, and areas that once rarely flooded will become increasingly prone to flooding as sea levels rise, pushing water up the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, and as rainfalls become more intense. It is a disgrace that the Mayor’s budget fails to fund upgrades for homes in Wards 7 and 8, after much of the work has been done to reach out to the community to offer assistance and plan the upgrades. The Sierra Club has also signed testimony submitted by the Anacostia Parks and Community Collaborative in opposition to cutting the FloodSmart Homes program.


Building Energy Performance Standards

The Sierra Club opposes the mayor’s proposals to delay and defund implementation of the Building Energy and Performance Standards (BEPS) program for three years. BEPS requires existing buildings–specifically, buildings that are less efficient than the majority of buildings of the same type–to make the changes needed to become more energy efficient. The first BEPS compliance cycle applies to commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet, as well as to DC government buildings over 10,000 square feet.

Delaying BEPS will imperil DC’s ability to fulfill its climate commitments and lead other jurisdictions in improving the efficiency of large buildings; undermine work already done to implement BEPS; create uncertainty in the market; and harm affordable housing. The proposal to delay BEPS also fails to recognize the existing flexibility in the program.

Buildings account for 71% of all greenhouse gasses in the District.[1] On its current schedule, BEPS is estimated to reduce the District’s carbon emissions by at least 10-12% by 2032, making BEPS a central pillar of DC’s strategy to achieve our climate commitments. The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasized the urgency of taking action now to reduce the impacts of the climate crisis. Other jurisdictions have followed the District’s lead in adopting performance standards for existing buildings, and 40 jurisdictions have joined the Biden Administration’s National Building Performance Standard Coalition and committed to adopting building performance standards by 2024. Delaying BEPS will erode the District’s leadership on climate action and could cause ripple effects across the country.

DOEE has already done nearly four years’ worth of work to implement BEPS, and many commercial building owners have also been preparing to implement BEPS. The deadline for building owners to choose their compliance pathway for the first BEPS cycle was April 4–two days ago. Delaying BEPS for three years will require DOEE to redo much of its work and will cause confusion among building owners.

The mayor’s budget appears to drop more than $33 million of federal ARPA funds for the Affordable Housing Retrofit Accelerator, which is assisting affordable housing buildings to comply with BEPS and serves as a national model for investing in affordable housing. This is not the time to cut spending that would make housing more affordable. This funding is urgently needed to support continued energy-efficiency upgrades in affordable housing properties, which will also improve the physical and financial health of residents. Deep energy upgrades can take years to complete; the Council should ensure that the Accelerator has sustainable, predictable, and long-term funding. We have been told that these funds will roll over, even though they do not currently appear in the proposed budget, but we are concerned the money could be used for other purposes. The budget also fails to fund the Department of General Services to bring DC government buildings into compliance with BEPS, providing only $1.5 million for building retrofits.

The current BEPS law and regulations are flexible, allowing extensions and other flexibilities for financial hardships and other challenging circumstances. We have heard that the three-year delay of BEPS is intended to support the residential conversion of many downtown buildings. This argument is nonsense. Most conversions of buildings from office to residential uses require a renovation that makes the building uninhabitable in the interim, which then qualifies the building for a total exemption from the current BEPS cycle.

The Sierra Club urges the Council to reject the proposed three-year delay of BEPS and to roll over the funding for the Affordable Housing Retrofit Accelerator.

Sustainable Energy Trust Fund

The Sierra Club opposes the mayor’s raid on the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) fee on utility bills, which will send $3 million away from sustainable energy programs and into the general fund. This move defeats the purpose of the fund, which is meant to be used for specific energy-related projects. Redirecting this money from SETF this year would also set a dangerous precedent for future years. There will always be reasons to want more money in the general fund, which is why the Council established the SETF to earmark funds for sustainable energy development.

Currently, DOEE plans to manage the $3 million cut to the SETF through reductions to these important programs:

  • Energy Storage Grants ($600,000)
  • Updates to the Clean Energy Conservation Code ($502,000)
  • Climate Commitment Act/Greenhouse Gas Emissions Tracking ($100,000)
  • Implementation of Workforce Development and Training Initiatives for DC Residents ($800,000)
  • Funding for DC Green Bank ($998,000)

We urge the Council to block the diversion of funds from the SETF. These funds are relatively small amounts compared to the overall budget, but they are extremely important for moving forward on our climate and clean energy goals.

Affordable Energy

The Sierra Club supports robust funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), because no one should be forced to live without essential home heating or cooling. We encourage the Council to provide local funds to supplement federal funds, as needed to ensure funding throughout the fiscal year.

We oppose the reallocation of $5 million from DOEE that was intended for the Home Weatherization Assistance Program. Improving the energy efficiency of residences through weatherization assistance increases the comfort, health, and energy security of low-income residents and reduces the future costs of LIHEAP. According to DOEE’s website, funding for weatherization in the current fiscal year ran out in mid-January, showing a need for more funding, not less.[2] Cutting the weatherization program is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Funding Healthy Homes and Greener Government Buildings

The Sierra Club thanks you, Councilmember Allen, for introducing the Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Act of 2023 (B25-0119). As the District transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy, it is imperative that DC’s low and middle income families be first in line for the health benefits of ending fossil fuel combustion in their homes and the cost savings from not having to foot the bill for DC’s increasingly expensive gas piping infrastructure. But passing the bill isn’t enough – if we never fund electrification retrofits for the DC families most in need, the law is nothing more than words on a piece of paper. We ask the Transportation and Environment Committee to ensure that the FY 2024 budget fully funds the Healthy Homes Act.

The Sierra Club also asks this Committee to help fund the Greener Government Buildings Act, which the DC Council passed unanimously last year. The law requires that newly constructed DC government owned and financed buildings be net zero energy, meaning they are highly energy efficient, maximize on-site renewable energy generation, and do not combust fossil fuels. All new DC buildings will be required to be net zero by 2026, and the DC government should lead by example. Ensuring newly constructed and renovated schools do not burn fossil fuels is particularly important to protect the health of DC’s children. We ask this committee to provide at least some funding to the Committee on Facilities and Family Services to fund the Greener Government Buildings Act.

Air Pollution Monitoring

We applaud DOEE’s plan to establish a permanent ambient air quality monitoring station in Ward 8, expanding the number of EPA-approved air monitoring stations from five to six. More data on air pollution will enable the District to better reduce pollution and mitigate the impacts on residents in Ward 8.

According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2022 report, “Years of scientific research have clearly established that particle pollution and ozone are a threat to human health at every stage of life, increasing the risk of premature birth, causing or worsening lung and heart disease, and shortening lives. Some groups of people are more at risk of illness and death than others, because they are more likely to be exposed, or are more vulnerable to health harm, or often both.”[3]

For 2022, the American Lung Association gave the District of Columbia a grade of “F” for high ozone days, a grade of “C” for particulate pollution, and notes that significant numbers of DC residents are at high risk of health impacts from air pollution.[4]


Thank you again, Councilmember Allen, for the opportunity to testify today. DOEE has done much to help DC meet its climate, waste reduction, and clean water goals. Thanks in part to the leadership demonstrated by DOEE and by DC Council, the District is a national leader in environmental justice and stewardship. We have made many commitments as a community and we need to back up those commitments with funding. The Mayor’s FY24 proposed budget does not live up to the needs of the moment or the needs of the future. The Sierra Club recommends revisiting the budget to restore funding for promising programs that will reduce the waste produced in the District, improve our water and air quality, and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while also lowering energy costs for low-income households.

[2]Notice: As of February 15th, 2023, DOEE’s Emergency Mechanical System Replacement, Weatherization and Lead Replacement Program’s Budget has been exhausted until further notice all new applications for any of the programs listed will be placed on our waitlist.”, accessed on April 2, 2023.

[3] State of the Air 2022, American Lung Association,

[4] State of the Air 2022, American Lung Association, Report card: District of Columbia,