Sierra Club Supports Mayor's Nominee to Head Department of Energy and Environment

Testimony of Catharine Ferguson
Sierra Club District of Columbia Chapter
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
Hearing on PR25-0279, The Department of Energy and Environment Richard Jackson Confirmation Resolution of 2023
Thursday, September 21, 2023

Councilmember Allen, thank you for the opportunity to testify at this hearing to consider PR25-0279, the “Department of Energy and Environment Richard Jackson Confirmation Resolution of 2023” which nominates Mr. Richard Jackson to lead the Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE). My name is Catharine Ferguson, and I am a member of the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club District of Columbia Chapter. 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 and many thousands of supporter activists in DC.

DOEE has established itself as an effective implementer of key environmental programs in the District, many focused on the transition to clean energy for buildings and transportation. DOEE has also supported–when funded–zero waste measures such as the Ditch the Disposables reusable foodware grant program. DOEE has, under prior Director Tommy Wells, demonstrated effective environmental leadership throughout its ranks, from its director to its program managers.

DOEE also takes a leadership role in promoting sustainability initiatives across the DC government. DOEE is aggressively pursuing all available sources of federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, the major climate and public health bill passed by Congress last year. DOEE is also coordinating extensively with other District agencies, including the Department of General Services (DGS) and Department of Transportation. For example, DOEE experts are working with DGS to implement the Greener Government Buildings Act, which requires all new or substantially renovated DGS-managed buildings to be net-zero energy. As DOEE works to build out the District's green infrastructure, it will serve an important role in supporting jobs in the new green economy and meeting the District’s climate goals.  

We congratulate Acting Director Richard Jackson on his nomination as Director of DOEE. We call on the Council to confirm him, urging him to continue DOEE’s strong environmental programs and to build on its solid foundation, expanding programs to meet ever-growing environmental challenges and vigorously pursuing opportunities to cut greenhouse gas emissions in DC. Since his nomination as Acting Director, Mr. Jackson has given every indication that he intends to do just that. He has, for example, continued the tradition of meeting with environmental stakeholders on a quarterly basis. These sessions have provided the environmental community with updates on priority issues and programs, while allowing advocates an opportunity to weigh in on their concerns or proposals for improvement. 

As Acting Director, Mr. Jackson has also demonstrated a willingness to listen and learn from environmental stakeholders. For instance, he recently met with a contingent of zero waste advocates for a meeting for which he assembled six members of his team. After listening to the advocates, he and his team engaged in an active conversation, both asking questions to learn more and suggesting strategies the advocates could adopt. While initially scheduled for one hour, this highly productive meeting lasted two hours. We trust this type of active engagement will continue should Mr. Jackson be confirmed. We also expect that DOEE’s engagement on reusable foodware to prevent plastic waste, begun with Ditch the Disposables, will continue and grow. While that program was not funded in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2024 budget, our collective goal must be to ensure that the District becomes a reusable foodware capital.  

We appreciate the conversations that Mr. Jackson and other DOEE leaders have had with Sierra Club members toward laying the groundwork for rapid implementation of the Healthy Housing and Residential Electrification Amendment Act of 2022 (B25-0119), known as the “Healthy Homes Act.” The Council included funding for implementation of this program starting in October (next month), when the Fiscal Year 2024 budget year begins. This legislation will fund electrification retrofits for homes of low- and moderate-income residents. It is essential to move low- and moderate-income residents off the gas system first, to reduce indoor air pollution and improve health, reduce the burden of energy costs, and ensure that these residents are not left behind on the gas distribution system as the customer base shrinks and costs go up. 

Thank you again, Councilmember Allen, for the opportunity to testify today. The Sierra Club asks the Council to approve PR25-0279, the “Department of Energy and Environment Richard Jackson Confirmation Resolution of 2023”  to confirm Richard Jackson as Director of DOEE.