While the United States federal government under the Trump administration continues to cling to coal as a viable energy source, the seat of the federal government has made clear its intentions to move in an entirely different direction.
Earlier this week, Washington, D.C.'s city council voted unanimously to pass landmark legislation — the impressively aggressive Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018 — that would see the nation's capital run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2032.
Essentially this means that within 14 years, D.C.'s electric utilities will be required to procure their supply from zero-emissions energy sources like solar and wind power. In turn, all businesses, governmental institutions, museums, municipal operations and residences — yes, even the executive one — in the nation's capital will be powered by fossil fuel-free sources.
As Huffpost reports, current citywide legislation mandates that the district move to 50 percent renewable energy use by 2032. The new bill, first introduced in September, doubles that goal in a move that's being praised as one of the boldest embraces of climate change-countering total clean energy use by a major American city. Although compact in size, D.C. ranks as the 20th most populous city in the U.S., ranking between Denver and Boston.
"Even though by ourselves we are a small jurisdiction, we can serve and have served as a model for other jurisdictions," says Mary Cheh, the D.C. councilwoman who drafted the original bill. "More importantly, we are in a loose association with other local and state jurisdictions so that even though the federal government is in default of international climate accords, we will meet them."
Per the Sierra Club, fast-tracking Washington, D.C., now the joins the ranks of two states — California and Hawaii — as well as over 100 cities big and small with clear-sighted 100 percent clean energy goals. A small handful of U.S. cities already source 70 or more of their energy needs from renewables including Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg, Kansas.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat and supporter of climate action, is expected to sign the bill.
The clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018 also mandates that public transportation and sizable vehicle fleets operating in the capital transition to electric-only. (Photo: Chip Somodeville/Getty Images)
Reaching beyond utilities
The Sierra Club, which helped to build support for the legislation, notes that it goes far beyond just requiring utilities to eliminate dirty energy sources within a relatively short time frame.
For starters, it imposes a surcharge on the interim use of gas and coal within the confines of the District and uses those fees to fund energy-efficiency and renewable energy programs including initiatives geared to assist low-income D.C. residents.
The legislation also establishes ultra-stringent efficiency standards for new and existing buildings and bolsters the use of renewable electric vehicles within the capital via tax incentives and improved EV infrastructure with plans to phase out all fossil fuel-powered buses and large vehicle fleets in favor of renewable electric ones. By 2045, all means of public transportation and privately owned fleets of vehicles numbering 50 or greater will be required to emit zero carbon dioxide. As HuffPost points out, this rule applies to ride-share services like Uber.
And considering that D.C. is a city that lacks a state (and congressional representation despite being more populous than some states in their entirety), the bill outlines plans to reduce emissions on a regional scale alongside Maryland and Virginia.
"The District is leading where the federal government has failed us, and we applaud D.C. for passing this historic clean energy legislation today," says Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, in a statement. "This bill is among the most ambitious pieces of climate legislation in the country, and today it became law because the D.C. community demanded it. The decisions made and policies discussed within the nation's capital affect the country, and the world."
As alluded to by Hitt, D.C.'s 100 percent clean energy goals are in stark contrast to those of the White House, which has taken a decidedly regressive stance when it comes to all things climate- and emissions-related despite dire warnings from the scientific community about the accelerating rate of global warming.
In turn, the blanket claim that Washington is dragging its feet in embracing renewable energy isn't entirely true ... in fact, it's quite the opposite. The city itself is paving the way.