DC Council Must Protect Funding for Low-Income Electrification & Energy Efficiency Measures

Testimony of Lara Levison
Sierra Club District of Columbia Chapter
Oversight Hearing on the Department of Energy and the Environment
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
Thursday, February 29, 2024


Councilmember Allen, thank you for the opportunity to testify at this oversight hearing on the Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), and thank you for your strong leadership on environment and sustainability issues. My name is Lara Levison, and I am the chair of the Energy 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.


Healthy Homes Act

Councilmember Allen, thank you for your leadership in introducing and moving forward the Healthy Homes Act,[1] which will enable 30,000 low- and moderate-income DC households to switch from fossil fuels to clean and efficient electric heating and upgrade to electric appliances with no out-of-pocket costs. Removing fossil fuel combustion from our homes eliminates unhealthy indoor air pollution and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Funding will come from the federal government and the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF), which is supported by a fee on utility bills. Low-income residents are exempt from paying the SETF fee. In a year of tighter budgets, we are concerned that the mayor or Council may try to raid the SETF to pay for unrelated programs. The Sierra Club strongly urges the D.C. Council to protect the SETF’s funding for the Healthy Homes Act and the other authorized uses of the fund.

Building Energy Performance Standards

The Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS), enacted in the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018, form an essential cornerstone of DC’s climate and clean energy policies. BEPS will increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings in the District. We commend DOEE for moving forward with implementation of this important policy despite the challenges of the post-pandemic period. Last year, the mayor’s budget proposed to delay BEPS, unsuccessfully. The Sierra Club vigorously opposes any delays in BEPS.

The DC Council was the first legislative body in the nation to design and enact a BEPS program, blazing the way for other jurisdictions. As a result, some adjustments have been needed as DOEE moves forward with implementation, in partnership with stakeholders. Over the past year, the BEPS Task Force, which is an advisory body, met to develop a set of recommendations for changes that must be addressed legislatively rather than through DOEE regulations. We understand that representatives of the building community have proposed emergency legislation to implement a number of these changes. The Sierra Club’s position is that the changes proposed by the BEPS Task Force do not rise to the level of emergency legislation and should not be enacted without the public process provided by a committee hearing and markup.

The BEPS Task Force did not include recommendations from the DOEE report assessing whether BEPS should be revised to base improvements in buildings on a greenhouse gas standard. Required by law and completed in January 2023, the DOEE report recommends a “trajectory pathway” for BEPS that would set long-term targets using Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and on-site greenhouse gas intensity as the metrics. The trajectory pathway would establish interim targets every six years that would be specific to each building covered by BEPS. The trajectory pathway provides several benefits over the current approach, including deeper greenhouse gas reductions by 2050 and greater certainty for building owners.

DOEE recommended implementing the trajectory pathway no sooner than 2032 and proposed holding off on the necessary policy changes until the first compliance cycle has been completed and evaluated. However, a trajectory pathway that is not implemented until 2032 will not see much compliance with the new trajectory GHG target until about 2038, since most building owners are likely to implement measures close to the deadline of any given cycle. As a result, the new GHG trajectory simply comes much too late to make a meaningful difference in the achievement of the District’s carbon neutrality goal by 2045.[2]

The Sierra Club is concerned that in the near term, owners whose buildings require major renovation will not have the incentive to electrify their buildings, but rather will install new fossil fuel boilers and other infrastructure that will remain in place for decades. We strongly recommend that the DC Council follow the recommendation of the BEPS greenhouse gas study and adopt the new trajectory goals (which would require new legislation), but adopt a faster timeline. At a minimum, building owners should have an option to voluntarily choose an alternative compliance pathway in the next cycle of BEPS (beginning in 2027 for compliance over the next five years) that is based on the principles of the trajectory approach laid out in the GHG study. 

Inflation Reduction Act

The federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers unprecedented federal assistance for families, businesses, and governments to transition from indoor fossil fuel combustion for heating to clean and efficient electric systems like heat pumps and induction stoves. We applaud DOEE for pursuing many of the opportunities provided to states and cities in the IRA. The Biden Administration is rolling out IRA programs at great speed to ensure that money is out the door before a potential change in administration in January 2025.

The Sierra Club is concerned that DOEE does not have the staff capacity to take advantage of all the IRA funding opportunities, and as a result, the District may leave money on the table that would boost our progress toward building a better, more just and equitable economy based on clean energy jobs, affordable energy, cleaner air, and reduced climate change impacts. For example, we understand DOEE has applied for funding under IRA Section 50121, the home energy efficiency rebate program, but has not yet applied for funding under IRA Section 50122, the high-efficiency electric home rebate program for low- to moderate-income households.

We encourage DOEE to partner with external groups and subcontractors to submit applications for every possible pot of funding that is available to the District in the IRA. We ask the DC Council whether you have any avenues to provide funding in the current fiscal year so that DOEE can hire contractors to secure these resources.

Greener Government Buildings Act

The Greener Government Buildings Act of 2022 requires that as of October 1, 2023, new or significantly renovated DC government buildings must be net zero energy.[3] These buildings must be highly energy efficient, maximize on-site renewable energy generation, and include no fossil fuel combustion such as from gas boilers. When needed, additional electricity can be obtained through power purchase agreements with renewable energy project developers, but not through the purchase of renewable energy credits. In addition, starting in 2025, the Climate Commitment Act will prohibit the DC government from installing fossil fuel-burning space-heating or water-heating appliances.[4]

The Greener Government Buildings Act, because it amended the Green Building Act of 2006, provides an avenue for seeking exemptions from the net zero requirements via the Green Building Advisory Council. We are aware that there are already efforts to seek exemptions for a number of projects. We recognize that there may be a few projects, such as renovations for affordable housing, that could face significant difficulties in achieving net zero energy when they are already in a late stage of project development. However, we also believe that all DC residents and workers deserve to occupy buildings with clean indoor air and lower energy costs. Furthermore, gas boilers or other fossil fuel infrastructure in new buildings could remain in operation for several decades, undermining indoor and outdoor air quality and hindering DC’s progress in meeting its climate targets. We urge DOEE and the Green Building Advisory Council to set a very high bar for any exemptions from the Greener Government Buildings Act.

Project Pipes

Thank you to the ten councilmembers who in February sent a letter to the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) stating that Project Pipes does not align with the fossil fuel-free future that the Council has charted. Project Pipes is the gas utility company’s mind-bogglingly expensive plan to replace gas pipelines all over the city. The final bill to gas ratepayers over multiple phases of Project Pipes could be as high as $14 billion. Washington Gas should focus instead on fixing dangerous gas leaks and transitioning its business model to clean, non-fossil energy resources that do not include combustion.

The Sierra Club applauds DOEE for their role in identifying and analyzing the flawed proposals that Washington Gas continues to present to the PSC. As they engage with the PSC, we urge them to continue to keep the mayor’s and DC Council’s vision of a carbon-free DC front and center in all relevant PSC proceedings.

Clean Energy DC 2.0

The Sierra Club applauds DOEE for the robust set of policy proposals in the Clean Energy DC 2.0 Roadmap that the agency released in the fall. Robust, creative, forward-looking policy proposals are essential to ensure that the District meets the targets laid out in the Climate Commitment Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with an upcoming target of 45% reductions below 2006 levels by 2025, and carbon neutrality by 2045. We ask that DOEE continue to engage with the public throughout the process of developing the Clean Energy DC 2.0 plan.


Enforce existing zero waste measures

DOEE plays an essential role in enforcing existing zero waste measures, including the straw and stirrer ban, the requirement that utensils, condiments, and other single-use items only be provided to restaurant customers upon their request, and the collection of the single-use grocery bag fee. We understand that DOEE has resources to inspect around 300 restaurants per year, in addition to restaurants identified through the 311 tip line. Inspecting such a low proportion of restaurants does not begin to ensure compliance by the thousands of District food service establishments. In addition, given the number of restaurants that have opened and closed in the past few years, additional outreach is required to ensure that newly opened food service entities are aware of these requirements. DOEE needs additional outreach and inspection officers.

Support a strong, equitable bottle bill

The Sierra Club DC Chapter supports a strong and equitable beverage container deposit-return law for the District. District parks, waterways, and neighborhoods are deluged with littered bottles and cans. The pollution from this blight especially adversely affects residents of Wards 5, 7, and 8. Beverage container deposit-return laws, also known as bottle bills, are proven to reduce litter, increase recycling rates, and save governments money. Unlike some of our other challenges, there is a proven solution for beverage container pollution. 

This is also a climate issue. Our current failure to recycle more bottles and cans means that we are wasting the equivalent energy needed to power 7,201 households and the annual emissions of 7,472 cars. With a strong and equitable bottle bill, the District would save the equivalent of the energy needed to power 8,606 homes plus remove 8,856 cars from our roadways. We clearly need a bottle bill.

The Sierra Club is proud to be one of 16 members of the Return, Refund, Recycle Coalition for DC (3RC for DC). Together, we have conducted outreach to thousands of District residents. The public supports a strong and equitable bottle bill. During our outreach, we learned from older residents that the District used to have a deposit-return system before the beverage companies dismantled it. Momentum is on our side. Neighboring Maryland has just introduced a bottle bill in Annapolis (HB 735 and SB 642). We urge the District Council to follow suit.

Promote reusable cups in sports and entertainment venues to grow reusable foodware

We also ask the DC Council to work with DOEE to develop legislation to promote reusable cups and food ware in sports and entertainment venues as a step to wider adoption. Reusable cup services are already available on a voluntary basis in a handful of District music venues. Such closed-loop environments are the entry point for many reusable foodware programs, given the ease of collecting containers for wash and reuse. New York City recently passed regulations allowing ticket holders to bring their own reusable water bottles to sports venues, a measure DC Council could adopt. DOEE should also investigate measures that go a step further to require reusable food and drink ware in the District’s closed-loop venues. Oakland, CA requires reusable cups in both city facilities and large venues. San Francisco requires a percentage of drinks to be served in reusable cups at events on city property. Such measures prevent the needless single-use drinkware waste generated in our sports and music facilities. Adopting reuse in these venues will also lead to investment in shared wash facilities, as has occurred in Denver, Colorado. In addition, exposure to reusables at these venues will educate District residents on how reusable food ware works, creating demand for reusable food ware for onsite dining and takeout food service.


Transportation Electrification Roadmap

DOEE released its long-awaited Transportation Electrification Roadmap (TER) in August 2022 to help the District transition its local transportation modes to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2045.

We appreciated seeing a comprehensive set of recommendations that were time bound in the roadmap. We have also appreciated receiving updates about some of those recommendations at the quarterly stakeholder meetings with DOEE and would like more updates, particularly on the progress with the TER’s recommendations for four electric vehicle (EV) related training opportunities and six educational opportunities by 2025.

We would also like updates on the interagency task force on transportation electrification led by the Office of Deputy Mayor of Operations and Infrastructure (DMOI) and the coordination of bulk vehicle purchases and charging infrastructure between District and federal fleets, especially since the Climate Commitment Amendment Act requires the District government to purchase or lease only ZEVs, starting in 2026. 

Advanced Clean Cars II

We thank DOEE for adopting the Advanced Clean Cars II Rule, which requires auto manufacturers to ensure that every new light-duty car sold in the District is a ZEV by 2035. As we told local and national media outlets, adopting the rule will benefit our air quality in the District and help meet our EV goals.

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles

Consistent with the DC Clean Cars Act of 2008, the District should also adopt three California vehicle rules pertaining to medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which would clean the District’s air and reduce its contribution to climate change.

First, the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule sets requirements for manufacturers of qualifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to sell increasing percentages of ZEVs, as a fraction of their overall sales, from model year 2024 through model year 2035. The ACT rule’s requirements vary for different weight classes of vehicles. Several classes of trucks must attain 75% zero-emission sales by model year 2035, while others, like tractors, are required to reach 40% zero-emission sales by model year 2035.

Second, the Heavy-Duty NOx Omnibus (HDO) rule sets standards for the acceptable levels of certain harmful emissions-–including NOx, non-methane hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter-–from heavy-duty trucks. These standards grow stricter over time, requiring trucks’ NOx emissions to decrease by 75% in 2024 and by 90% beginning in 2027.

While the ACT rule is designed to generate a greater supply of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, California’s Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) rule aims to increase demand for these types of vehicles. The ACF rule would call for certain purchasers of sizable truck fleets to electrify increasing percentages of those fleets over time. As one example, the rule would require state and local governments’ fleets to “ensure 50 percent of vehicle purchases are zero-emission beginning in 2024 and 100 percent of vehicle purchases are zero-emission by 2027.” As another example, federal fleets would be required to buy only ZEVs starting in 2024, and retire fossil fuel powered vehicles when their useful lives come to an end.

By adopting these three rules, which would improve our air quality, the District is expected to improve public health by reducing the prevalence of asthma, lung disease, and cancer—especially in communities of color and low-income communities, which tend to be disproportionately impacted by many forms of environmental pollution, including exposure to harmful diesel exhaust.

EV charging infrastructure

Transitioning to a ZEV future, coupled with reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), will require EV charging infrastructure to meet the District’s goal under the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 for at least 25% of registered vehicles in DC to be zero-emission by 2030. Your Comprehensive Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Access, Readiness, and Sustainability Act (B25-0106) would lay the groundwork for that necessary infrastructure. We support reassigning responsibilities in that bill from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to DOEE, as requested by both agencies at last year’s hearing. The faster the DC Council acts to facilitate the transition to EVs, the better.

Bus fleet electrification

As the TER notes, the electrification of bus fleets is especially critical for reaching the District’s GHG emission reduction goals. As we conveyed in other oversight hearings this year, DDOT and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) must not delay their electrification projects and zero-emission transitions.

Reducing air pollution from fossil fuel powered buses is especially important in communities of color and low-income communities across the District, which face outsized levels of pollution and climate change impacts—resulting in an increased incidence of associated disease and premature death. According to the TER, Black residents experienced three times as many deaths per capita from cardiovascular disease as White residents, and children living in predominantly Black communities have significantly higher asthma-related emergency visits—up to nearly 20 times higher—than those in majority-White communities.

Traffic safety, vehicle miles traveled, and transit service

As we said in a joint comment on DOEE’s Clean Energy DC 2.0 Draft Policy Roadmap and in our subsequent testimony for DDOT’s Performance Oversight Hearing this year, we support measures to:

  • Reduce unsafe driving and vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
  • Expand the network of on-street protected bike lanes
  • Give serious consideration for permanent car-free streets and car-free zones across the District
  • Eliminate parking minimums
  • Increase parking permit fees
  • Work toward system-wide high-frequency transit service, which is defined by moveDC as every 5 minutes or better for rail and every 10 minutes or better for buses
  • Continually prioritize those areas in the District with the greatest transportation needs.

Reducing unsafe driving will require lowering car speeds, enforcing traffic fines, and taking cars with repeat offenses off the road. We appreciate your leadership in advancing legislation that would prioritize booting or towing vehicles with repeat speeding or reckless driving violations. Those efforts should be fully funded.

Reducing VMT will require funding WMATA like the priority it should be, as we detail in our recent testimony for WMATA’s Performance Oversight Hearing.

In addition to providing people in DC with viable alternatives to cars, car use itself must also be addressed to reflect its true costs. One way of doing that would be congestion pricing. In addition to decreasing congestion, reducing pollution, and helping meet the District’s transportation and climate goals, it would also generate revenue that could be used to fund Metro, which is regularly facing budget shortfalls.


The District’s performance on lead service line removal does not reflect the urgency of this public health issue. Public health experts agree that no amount of lead in drinking water is safe for any age group. Lead in drinking water is associated with damage to the brain, ADHD, underperformance in school, cardiovascular disease, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Lead causes attention deficits, loss of IQ points, hyperactivity and antisocial behavior in children. Children exposed to lead are less likely to finish school and are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Unlike some other cities that have acted swiftly to replace lead service lines, DC still has thousands of 100% lead pipes in the ground. DC Water’s own city-wide sampling routinely reveals elevated levels of lead in some DC residents’ drinking water. In 2019 and 2020, more than 80% of sampling events at high-risk homes in DC showed detectable levels of lead. DC Water’s most recent estimate is that there are about 21,600 known lead or suspected lead pipes.

DC’s drinking water program should fully fund lead pipe replacement using all available federal funds and augment budgets as necessary to achieve the goal of complete replacement by 2030. Residents should not have to pay to replace lead service lines on their private property directly, or indirectly, through water rates. There must be clear public messaging explaining that all residents with lead pipes are at risk of lead poisoning, and information provided to receive filters (pitcher-style or point-of-use style) for every household with a lead pipe or a pipe of unknown material, free of charge. These filters must be maintained, free of charge, until six months after a lead pipe replacement.

Legislation has been introduced that is responsive to the need for lead service line replacement, and which would do so cost-effectively. This legislation should be finalized and passed by the DC Council immediately.


[1] Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Amendment Act of 2023, B25-0119, https://lims.dccouncil.gov/Legislation/B25-0119.

[2] The BEPS GHG study does not take into account the District’s new statutory goal of carbon neutrality by 2045; instead it works with the Mayor’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. DOEE needs to update the timeline to reflect the new timelier goal.

[3] B24-0785 - Greener Government Buildings Amendment Act of 2022, effective from March 10, 2023, fully effective from October 1, 2023 when the FY24 budget year began. https://lims.dccouncil.gov/Legislation/B24-0785.

[4] B24-0267 - Climate Commitment Act of 2021, effective from September 21, 2022, https://lims.dccouncil.gov/Legislation/B24-0267.