Testimony of Mark Rodeffer
Sierra Club DC Chapter
DC Council Committee on Transportation and Environment,
Committee on Housing, and Committee of the Whole
Hearing on the Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Act of 2023 (B25-0119)
May 9, 2023
Thank you, Councilmembers Allen and White, and Chairman Mendelson, for holding this hearing today on the Healthy Homes Act. My name is Mark Rodeffer and I’m testifying on behalf of the Sierra Club. We are the largest environmental advocacy organization in the nation, and we have about 3,000 dues-paying members in DC.
The Sierra Club very much appreciated working closely with you, Councilmember Allen, as well as Washington Interfaith Network, in developing this important legislation. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure the DC Council passes and funds the Healthy Homes Act. Attached to my testimony is a statement of support for the Healthy Homes Act signed by 29 DC-based organizations.
The Climate Threat from Gas
Methane gas that is piped from fracking sites into our homes and other buildings is responsible for about a quarter of DC’s climate pollution. When burned, methane gas emits carbon dioxide, the most common climate pollutant. When leaked directly into the atmosphere, methane gas is more than 80 times more powerful as a climate pollutant than carbon dioxide. The District has pledged to end climate pollution by 2045, which will require that we phase out all fossil fuel use. Our electricity is moving toward 100% renewable generation, and we are making progress on reducing climate pollution from transportation through both electrification and mode shift. But when it comes to phasing out fossil fuel combustion in our homes, DC is woefully behind, and we have only 22 years to solve the problem.
The Public Health Threat from Gas
The fracked gas industry refers to its product as “clean-burning natural gas.” It’s the biggest climate lie since “clean coal.” Like coal, gas isn’t just polluting the climate, it’s also polluting the air and our health. Indoor fossil fuel combustion fills our homes with many of the same pollutants as auto exhaust, including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, even formaldehyde. You can’t see or smell these fumes, but if your home uses a gas furnace or gas appliance, these pollutants are in your home. As we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, dangerous particles in the air pose a greater threat indoors than outdoors. It makes no sense to pipe a dirty, dangerous fuel into our homes so we can burn it and breathe in the fumes.
The health consequences are severe. Research has shown that children who grow up in homes with gas appliances have a 42% increased risk of developing asthma. Asthma rates in children living in homes with gas stoves are comparable to those of children living with cigarette smokers. A study this year found that 13% of all childhood asthma cases are attributed directly to gas stoves.
Indoor air pollution is particularly acute among DC’s most vulnerable residents. A City Paper story headlined “Doctors Blame D.C.’s High Asthma Rates in Part on Poor Housing” reported that according to George Washington University, hospitalization rates for asthma are 10 times higher in Ward 8 than in wealthier parts of the District. Indoor fossil fuel combustion is not the only contributor to poor indoor air quality, though when combined with other hazards like mold or pests, its impacts are compounded, and its health effects are worse.
Asthma is not the only health hazard from indoor fossil fuel combustion. In an October 2022 letter to the U.S. Department of Energy, the American Lung Association and other public health organizations commented on the health impacts of gas furnaces, as follows:
“A significant amount of evidence on the detrimental health effects of exposure to air pollution shows that burned methane (natural) gas (mostly nitrogen dioxide) contributes to premature mortality and increased risk for illness including ischemic heart disease, stroke, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], lung cancer, type 2 diabetes, and lower-respiratory infections. There is a growing body of evidence showing an association between long-term exposure to air pollution and adverse birth outcomes. Short term exposure to high levels of air pollution can exacerbate asthma and cardiopulmonary symptoms.”,
The Economic Threat from Gas
Gas isn’t just a climate and health threat. The economics of fossil fuels are increasingly not workable for DC families. Last year, gas prices increased more than 50 percent. But that’s just the beginning. Washington Gas wants to charge DC residents $4.5 billion dollars to replace its gas pipes across DC, a program it calls Project Pipes. The Public Service Commission has already allowed Washington Gas to charge DC ratepayers almost $300 million for Project Pipes, and now Washington Gas is seeking another $672 million. The DC Department of Energy and Environment estimates the total cost of Project Pipes is $4.5 billion. It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars on fossil fuel infrastructure after DC has committed to transition off fossil fuels.
These multi-billion dollar costs are paid for by gas ratepayers. If a household transitions off the gas system, it’s off the hook and will pay zero dollars of the $4.5 billion Washington Gas is seeking. Low- and moderate-income DC households should be first in line to transition off the gas system so they are not forced to pay for Washington Gas’s dirty energy profiteering. That’s why the DC Council must pass – and fund – the Healthy Homes Act. If the bill is passed but not funded, DC’s most vulnerable residents will be forced to continue breathing polluted indoor air and paying the skyrocketing costs of fossil fuels and dirty energy infrastructure.
Fortunately, the federal government will pay for a large portion of the Healthy Homes Act. The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law last year, provides rebates and tax credits for energy efficient electric systems, including an $8,000 rebate for heat pumps and almost $2,000 for heat pump water heaters. The federal rebates are generous, but they will not pay the full cost of electrifying a house, apartment, or condo. We cannot expect residents with low incomes to cover the remaining costs. If passed and funded, the Healthy Homes Act will ensure that low- and moderate-income DC residents who want to electrify their homes can do so at no cost.
If the Council fails to pass and fund the Healthy Homes Act, higher income DC residents will still be able to use the generous federal incentives to electrify their homes and free themselves of the growing costs of staying on the gas system. But low-income DC residents would be stuck paying for the billions Project Pipes will cost. And, as higher income DC residents transition off gas, lower income residents’ share of the $4.5 billion cost will grow. To ensure an equitable transition off fossil fuels in DC, the Sierra Club asks the DC Council to pass and fund the Healthy Homes Act this year.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
Attachment: DC Organizations Support the Healthy Homes Act
 Gas Stoves: Health and Air Quality Impacts and Solutions, RMI, 2020, https://rmi.org/insight/gas-stoves-pollution-health.
 Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming our Health, Climate Council (Australia), May 2021, https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/gas-habit-how-gas-harming-health.
 Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2023, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/20/1/75.
 Doctors Blame D.C.'s High Asthma Rates in Part on Poor Housing, City Paper, May 22, 2019, https://washingtoncitypaper.com/article/180182/doctors-blame-dcs-high-asthma-rates-in-part-on-poor-housing/.
 Coalition comment letter on Increased Efficiency Standards for Non-Weatherized Gas Furnaces and Mobile Home Furnaces, October 2022, https://www.lung.org/getmedia/ffe5d90c-6bd0-43fe-a4f9-48dba32427b6/climate-and-health-coalition-letter-on-doe-gas-furnace-rule-final.pdf.
 “Gas Boilers and NOx: The Hidden Emitter,” Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, October 18, 2021, https://eciu.net/analysis/reports/2020/gas-boilers-and-nox-the-hidden-emitter
 Average cost of wholesale U.S. natural gas in 2022 highest since 2008, U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 9, 2023, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=55119.