We’re Winning the Climate Fight! — The Full Story of Cheh’s Climate Bill

We’re Winning the Climate Fight! — The Full Story of Cheh’s Climate Bill

We have news — and it’s quite the mixed bag.

I’ll start with the good news. WE HAVE A BILL! On Tuesday, DC Councilmember Mary Cheh finally introduced a climate bill. The “Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018” features policies that, if passed, will significantly cut emissions and place DC among the frontrunners of states and cities fighting climate change. The bill reflects our campaign’s hard-won principles of strong, economy-wide emission reductions with a focus on equity, and that is a true victory that would not be happening without your tireless advocacy.

Before I get to the bad news, I have a quick favor to ask: Will you send a message to Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie of Ward 5 asking him to do everything in his power to advance and pass this strong climate bill? It will need to move through his committee this fall. Take one minute to send a message right now.

Now on to the bad news. What’s hard to believe, and impossible to celebrate, is that Cheh left the carbon fee out of this bill. This happened despite her public commitment of support for the carbon-pricing policy and her repeated expressions of confidence that a majority of the Council would support a carbon fee. And after two years of passionate community support and careful analysis generated by our campaign, we were shocked when she turned her back at the last minute.Camila Thorndike speaking w Cheh at bill intro

When Councilmember Cheh announced her re-worked version of the climate bill at the Wilson Building on July 10th, I sat feet away from the dais busy with Councilmembers and staff, in an out-of-body experience of conflicting emotions. This was the day you and I worked for years to realize.

But part of my heart was broken and betrayed. Local leadership on the most powerful solution for a just and livable future, a carbon fee and rebate, had evaporated just weeks after Cheh’s office had proposed moving forward with the strong carbon price we endorsed.

Part of me was irate. This about-face happened because of the power of the fossil fuel industry. Near the very end of months of working group meetings with business lobbyists, Washington Gas proposed to swap the carbon fee for a modest increase on the preexisting Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF), raising funds for commercial energy efficiency programs. Big business and utilities want all carrots, no stick. A well-designed and steadily increasing carbon price holds polluters accountable for the damages of climate change. Unfortunately, the Councilmember let them off the hook.

Yet another part of me was incredibly impressed — by our movement. Although Cheh’s omnibus bill falls short of our expectations, it features a very strong set of landmark policies that will significantly enhance the District’s commitment to clean energy and energy conservation. The final effect of the bill is that all dirty energy is made slightly more expensive in the city, dirty electricity is phased out completely by 2032, and the revenue raised from the bill — an estimated $26 million in year one — would be invested in green infrastructure and other programs.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Similar to a carbon tax in Boulder, Colorado, the SETF fee proposed in Cheh’s bill would apply to electricity generated by fossil fuels. It goes beyond the Boulder approach by including a modest fee on natural gas and fuel oil too. The bill also increases DC’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require that 100% of the District’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2032, and requires suppliers to purchase a high percentage of their energy through long-term renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs). This would establish the strongest such goal in the country. (Yes, very cool). It would also establish strong building efficiency standards and would allocate 20% of the funds raised by the energy fee for rate-payer assistance for low-income households.

So, my friends, mixed bag. We lost a big battle for courageous climate policy, but if we stick together and fight as hard as ever, we are on the way to winning the war for a clean energy transformation in the District.

Will you take one minute to send a message to Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie? His support is key for passing this bill.

Cheh’s suite of ambitious solutions were just great ideas in a report until you came along. Now they are on the way to becoming law. Congratulations on this real progress — seriously. Thank you for fighting so hard to get the District this far.

Activists Attend Bill Introduction

Your advocacy is THE countervailing force to big utilities and businesses who don’t want any climate policy with teeth to pass. We are still in for a big fight. Lobbyists for fossil fuel companies have strong access to Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, chair of the committee through which the bill must pass after Cheh’s committee. So, once again, please, join me in urging McDuffie to advance this bill in its full strength this fall. The opposition is working overtime to bend the Council to their will. We must resist. Take action now!

It’s been a strange week, but thanks to this coalition’s tenacity and good cheer, I am dusting myself off and tightening the boxing gloves. Climate progress depends on grassroots power. The momentum we’ve built together has infused equity into local environmental politics and forced politicians to act. Let’s double down until they finish the job.

Thank you for all your hard work and support. Onwards!

— Camila Thorndike, DC Policy Director at the CCAN Action Fund

CCAN Action Fund Statement: D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh Introduces Climate Bill that Excludes Carbon Price

CCAN Action Fund Statement: D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh Introduces Climate Bill that Excludes Carbon Price

Groups Express Surprise that Bill does Not Include a Carbon Price Given Months of Advocacy and Broad Grassroots Support

WASHINGTON, DC — On Tuesday, July 10th, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced an “omnibus” bill on climate change that falls short of what many advocates had pushed for. But the bill still includes several landmark features that significantly enhance the city’s commitment to clean energy. What the bill does NOT include is a clear and robust “price on carbon pollution,” as requested by an 86-group coalition of environmental and justice groups over the past two years. Instead, at the suggestion of local utility Washington Gas, Cheh is increasing the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) surcharge by a modest amount. The final effect of the bill is that all dirty energy is made slightly more expensive in the city, dirty electricity is phased out completely by 2032, and the revenue raised from the bill — an estimated $26 million in year one — would be invested in green infrastructure and programs.

Similar to a carbon tax in Boulder, Colorado, the fee proposed in Cheh’s bill would apply to electricity generated by fossil fuels. It goes beyond the Boulder approach by including a fee on natural gas and fuel oil too, though also modest. It also increases DC’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to require that 100 percent of the District’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2032, and requires suppliers to purchase a high percentage of their energy through long-term renewable power purchase agreements. This would establish the strongest such goal in the country. It would also establish strong building efficiency standards and would allocate 20 percent of the funds raised by the energy fee to make energy improvements for low-income households.

The bill would increase by 100 percent the city’s existing — though small — SETF surcharge on electricity. The new fee on natural gas and heating fuels would be double that on electricity, but still very modest.

The bill, titled the “Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018,” was co-introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Trayon White Sr. (Ward 8), and Charles Allen (Ward 6). It was also co-sponsored by Councilmembers David Grosso (At-Large) and Vincent Gray (Ward 7).

In response, CCAN Action Fund Director Mike Tidwell issued the following statement:

“To our surprise and disappointment, Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced a climate bill that does not include a clear, transparent, and effective ‘price on carbon pollution.’ Instead, the Councilmember is putting forward a good bill — but a bill that is significantly scaled-back at the suggestion of Washington Gas. The Cheh bill will cut emissions and create investments in green infrastructure. But it misses the opportunity — as proposed by a broad coalition of experts and advocates — to more aggressively ‘price’ carbon pollution while fully protecting low- and moderate-income residents AND stimulating the local economy.

“While we are still evaluating the features of Cheh’s bill, it is heartening to see it follows many of the principles that environmental advocates have embraced. It is strong on driving down carbon emissions, includes the strongest renewable electricity standard in the country, and makes some effort — but not enough — to ensure that low-income Washingtonians can prosper under this policy. And the building code mandate under the bill could set a precedent among other cities throughout the country.

“While CCAN Action Fund regrets that Councilmember Cheh ultimately ignored the best and most equitable approach to climate policy — which is advocated by the 86 groups behind the ‘Put A Price On It’ coalition — it is clear that she has chosen a ‘runner-up’ approach that is comprehensive and begins to address fairness. Clearly, none of this would have been possible without the relentless advocacy of the ‘Put A Price On It’ coalition.

“We now call on all our DC Councilmembers to ensure that a strong bill passes that protects our communities and significantly reduces emissions. If so, we are confident this could inspire other cities to take similar action.”

Additional Information

From Cheh’s press release, major provisions in the legislation include:

  • New Building Emissions Standards – The Building Energy Performance Standard Program for privately-owned and District government buildings will be the first of its kind in the country. Implemented by the Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), the program will guide the District’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, most often large commercial buildings, in retrofitting their buildings to become more energy efficient.
  • Transitioning to Renewable Energy Sources – Currently, Pepco customers must opt-in to purchasing energy from renewable sources. The “Clean Energy DC Act” would flip that option so that residents must opt-out of purchasing renewable energy. The legislation also requires that 100% of electricity sold in the District come from renewable sources by 2032 and, over the next three years, 80% of the standard offer service electricity be purchased via long-term contracts with renewable sources.
  • Funding local sustainability initiatives – To fund the Green Finance Authority, commonly known as the District’s Green Bank, and strengthen funding available for low-incoming energy assistance, this bill will increase the SETF fee for electricity and natural gas consumption. It does so in a way that will result in less than a $1 increase to residents’ average monthly electric bills and about a $2.10 increase to residents’ average monthly gas bills. 20% of the generated funds will be used by DOEE to provide relief to low-income residents struggling to pay energy bills.
  • Transportation Emissions –Once passed, this legislation will direct the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue rules that make the District’s vehicle excise tax amount dependent upon fuel efficiency, therefore incentivizing the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. The bill will also authorize the Mayor to establish a greenhouse gas fee on motor fuel if Maryland or Virginia also do so and authorizes the Mayor to join in any forthcoming regional transportation-sector greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.

A copy of the legislation is available here: CleanEnergy DC Omnibus.


#PriceItDC at the DOEE Budget Hearing

#PriceItDC at the DOEE Budget Hearing

Committee on Transportation and the Environment

On Tuesday, CCAN Carbon Pricing Campaign Director Camila Thorndike represented nearly 70 organizations when speaking to the D.C. Council about the necessity of a carbon price at the DOEE Budget Oversight Hearing.

Mayor Bowser and the D.C. council plan for D.C. to be carbon neutral by 2050. Camila reminded the council that “the least expensive fuel will win”, emphasizing how important a carbon price is as we move away from fossil fuels. DC needs substantive policy interjections if we want to have any hope of reaching our carbon neutral goal.

WATCH the amazing Camila give her testimony — or, read a script below.


Thank you to Committee Chair Cheh for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing. My name is Camila Thorndike, and I am here representing nearly 70 organizations and thousands of voters behind the growing campaign to Put a Price on It D.C. We are proud to work with your office, with Director Wells, and the rest of the Council to advance comprehensive climate policy.

First, we applaud Director Wells and the Bowser administration for setting ambitious goals.

Last year, Mayor Bowser told the world “We’re Still In” the Paris Climate Accord. The Sustainable DC Plan establishes commitments for the District to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2006 levels by 2032 and 80% by 2050, which the Administration again affirmed as a member of the C40 cities.

At the North American Climate Summit last December, Mayor Bowser pushed expectations even higher by pledging to make the District carbon-neutral by 2050. She said: “we will not let federal inaction hinder our progress.”

We are now over a year into Trump’s presidency. States and cities that have declared themselves leaders in the resistance now need to deliver results. So, what has been achieved so far?

The 2017 Sustainable DC Progress Report cites a 24% reduction from 2006 emission levels. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of this progress can be attributed not to local leadership, but to fuel switching at the grid level.

According to the PSC, the share of electricity provided by natural gas grew by 62 percent from 2013 to 2016. This was driven by the economics of cheap natural gas, demonstrating the power of a simple price signal: the least expensive fuel will win. (Indeed, we need look no farther to understand why carbon pricing is the most effective of climate policies.)

Unfortunately, even D.C.’s methane-driven emission reduction claims should be viewed with skepticism. In February, Environmental Defense Fund reported that emissions of natural gas, or methane — which is upwards of 86 times stronger a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — are dramatically higher than official state accounts. In Pennsylvania, which is within the PJM grid that powers D.C., wasted gas causes “the same near-term climate pollution as 11 coal-fired power plants.”

Even if the accounting behind D.C.’s climate progress were trustworthy, it is highly unlikely that the rapid decline in emissions will continue without substantive new policy interjections.

So, in what kind of policy should D.C. taxpayers and voters place their trust for a livable future?

First, let us acknowledge that managing the entire energy transition through agency programs is an overwhelming and unreasonable demand. What is needed is a fundamental shift. The fastest way to catalyze a comprehensive, cost-effective and lasting transition to a carbon-free D.C. is a strong and equitable price on carbon.

Councilmembers and Director Wells: providing genuine climate leadership to the nation is a tough job. The market should be working for you, not against you.

With an economy-wide fee on carbon pollution, DOEE’s existing work will be supercharged. Just imagine: when the true cost of fossil fuels is appropriately accounted for, lines will form around the block for programs like Solar for All!

And while there is much to like in the DOEE budget, I want to end with a note on equity, because we are concerned about the budget’s $90,000 cut to Environmental Justice.

Any change in energy policy and programs has a price effect. In other words, nearly every single choice you make redistributes income. In the era of the radical GOP tax overhaul and significant budget surplus in D.C., there is no excuse not to ensure equitable outcomes in climate and energy policy.

This means increasing funding for Environmental Justice. It means supporting not only a carbon fee, but a carbon rebate — especially for families being punished in the current economy.

The Carbon Fee-and-Rebate creates a sustainable long-term strategy for reducing CO2 emissions, because citizens are highly likely to support a policy that will help them cope with higher energy prices during the economy’s transition to clean, renewable energy.

We are running out of time to stabilize our climate. 2017 gave us a world where truly extreme weather events appear to be the new normal – wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, a “bomb cyclone” snow storm, and 82 degree days in February.

Putting a price on every ton of carbon pollution is one of the most effective ways to equitably reduce pollution and increase prosperity. The Carbon Fee-and-Rebate would ensure we are “backing up our DC values with action,” as Mayor Bowser pledged in Chicago.

We look forward to working with you to ensure this bedrock policy is finally put into place.

Faces of the Campaign: Meet Assata Harris

Faces of the Campaign: Meet Assata Harris

Faces of the Campaign is an ongoing series featuring our key organizers and stakeholders involved in “Put A Price On It, D.C.” Our coalition — more than 45 groups as of this writing — is comprised of racial justice activists, union workers, health advocates, moms, dads, kids, retirees, and business-owners alike. Assata Harris is the Climate Justice Organizer the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.  Here’s her story.

Why does the campaign to put a price on carbon in DC and rebate the revenue matter to you?

When I think of climate justice, I have to be honest with you…. racial and economic justice are not typically the first thing that pops into my mind. However, after I became involved with the “Put A Price On It, D.C” campaign I realized that climate justice and environmental justice don’t have to be either/or they can be both. This policy matters to me because, like you, I recognize climate change as a central issue of our time that affects us all. This campaign goes to the next steps and tackles economic justice at the same time.

What has been your favorite moment in this campaign so far?

I think my favorite moment of this campaign was different moments of interacting with amazing volunteers of all different backgrounds who are really committed to fighting climate change while lifting up our most vulnerable communities. It feels wonderful everyday to wake up and know I am a part of a movement that reflects the diversity of the world we live in.

What was your biggest accomplishment on this campaign?

My biggest accomplishment thus far is really learning how carbon pricing actually works, not just in a theoretical level but in a way that makes sense for our communities. I must admit, it can be very complicated. But with all of the support that CCAN has provided, this journey to understand carbon pricing has been very straightforward and informative! Carbon pricing is the most creative way to tackle two issues of our time: economic justice and climate justice.

Who is your inspiration?

Assata Shakur, my namesake, a personal hero of mine! She was a great community organizer, who used passion as her strategy.

On Yom Kippur, care for the earth

On Yom Kippur, care for the earth

Written by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb

Medieval Jewish mystics taught that God created the world through self-contraction, or tzimtzum. God was everywhere – but by shrinking God’s self a bit, everything else could emerge. God humbled Godself.

We should follow suit. In our congregation, tomorrow’s Yom Kippur message will be just that: “humble yourself.”

Humility is a personal virtue, just as “Moses was most humble” (Num. 12:3). Modern leaders should try humility too! People of faith should prize humility, rather than swagger, when deciding whom to support.

We can cultivate humility, collectively: Being proud of our religion, but not believing it alone has all the answers. Being proud of our country, yet humbly considering its flaws and mis-directions.

In today’s warming world, we’re now also called to be humble as a species. To try to make space for the rest of life, many faithful folks have become environmental advocates. That’s why I’m speaking up for this fall’s DC campaign to put a price on carbon.

In synagogue tomorrow, we’ll sing, “Humble yourself in sight of Creation.” Humility is just what humanity needs, if we’re to dodge the worst of the ecological catastrophes we now bring upon ourselves. Exhibits H through M: Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Maria.

Hubris, the exact opposite of humility, is the downfall of every tragic hero – or civilization. The hubris of recent generations brought us to the brink of irrevocable climate change. Hubris lets “enlightened” folk today consume and pollute way more than our fair or sustainable share. And hubris has us wait for big techno-fixes, or for others to act first, before making the changes we know must come.

Some of those needed changes are “sacrifices.” Though we’re loathe to give anything up, humility calls us to sacrifice. Yes: true humility demands sacrifice. But it’s worth it: sacrifice comes from sacred, in Hebrew (korban-offering from karov-draw-near) as in Latin. Sacrifice is holy! It’s also a fair exchange: we give up something finite, receiving in its place something lofty and sacred. And, it’s our duty.

We should sacrifice, or “give back,” what isn’t rightly or sustainably ours. Consider the idea of “privilege.” I’m a man, socialized to take up space; the humble faithful way to “man up” is to “sacrifice” some status, so women can lead. As a white man, aware of the myriad disadvantages from which I’m exempt thanks to skin tone alone, I extend myself for racial justice, even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. Ditto for being straight, able-bodied, well-off, or cis-gender.

But I’m also a human – who, together with you and seven billion others, plants a most oversized footprint on our threatened blue marble home. So it’s time to consider “species privilege,” too.

Humans got ahead by claiming what rightly belonged to others – not just indigenous peoples, but the whole “order of Creation,” comprising millions of species besides our one. We squeezed them out in the process. To restore balance, we must do teshuvah (deep repentance) – make real change – by “sacrificing” some of what we wrongly consider “ours.”

Every Yom Kippur that goes by without major tzimtzum (self-contraction) by us humans puts poor people, all God’s critters, and our very future at greater risk.

Economist Paul Krugman simplifies the math: climate change will lower gross global product by at least 5 percent. Stopping climate damage, by contrast, would cost only 2 percent. Two percent, so we don’t destroy the biosphere – is that even a sacrifice, or a wise investment? Waiting only locks in more suffering, and harms our progeny. It’s smart to act now: “Choose life,” pronto, “that you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). The longer we fiddle, the hotter the future burns.

Luckily, little sacrifice is needed to get behind the #PriceItDC effort to use the free market to curb carbon pollution. Like sister initiatives elsewhere, #PriceItDC makes industrial polluters pay to emit what harms us, then rebates the money back to residents in just ways. It’s our chance here in DC to model how our future economy can work, once we’re all practicing proper species humility.

It brings the “externalities” of fossil fuels – like, say, reduced life expectancy for your grandkids – into the economic equation. It gives polluters monetary incentives to pollute less. It helps us become more rational economic actors, and more moral and spiritual in the process.

Please join me and my community this fall in practicing tzimtzum, the sacred lost art of humble self-contraction. Together we can make teshuvah, repentance and return to right action, not just a Yom Kippur thing, but part of our everyday lives.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb lives in Washington DC, where he is a DCPS Parent, past chair of Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA), and Rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation.

Landmark Study Finds Carbon Fee-And-Rebate Policy Would Boost D.C. Businesses, Families, and Economy

Landmark Study Finds Carbon Fee-And-Rebate Policy Would Boost D.C. Businesses, Families, and Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, July 27, a new draft study detailed how a carbon fee-and-rebate policy would benefit the local economy of Washington, DC. According to the study’s findings, the policy — being proposed by the “Put A Price On It, D.C.” coalition — can effectively reduce carbon emissions in the District while maintaining economic growth and job creation, and putting more money in the pockets of DC residents.

The independent analysis, titled “Assessing Economic Impacts of a Carbon Fee & Dividend for DC,” was carried out by the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS) and shared at an event hosted by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI). The draft study found that the policy would result in a steady boost in jobs — particularly in the construction sector — and stable economic growth, while reducing planet-warming carbon emissions 23 percent by 2032 for electricity, natural gas, and home-heating oil consumed in the District. Transportation emissions also fall under this examined policy.

Roger Horowitz, Co-Founder of Pleasant Pops, stated: “With the carbon fee-and-rebate policy, DC has the opportunity to become a national leader on climate action in a way that is equitable and just — and good for our business. Putting a price on global warming pollution and rebating the revenue to families will keep our business going and improve the health of our community.”

“Zenful Bites is proud to be part of the ‘Put a Price on It D.C.’ coalition. This policy will expand our customer base and make our city a healthier, safer place to live. We’re happy to help move this campaign forward for a more sustainable economy,” said Josephine Chu, Co-Founder of Zenful Bites.

The study modeled the indirect and induced changes that occur throughout all sectors of the DC economy as businesses, households and the government respond – not only to the fee itself, but also to the newfound money available from the return of that fee every month. The analysis projects that, by 2032, the policy would generate a rebate of $170 per month for the average family of four and $294 per month for a low-income family of four. This gradually rising rebate would increase residents’ support, thereby increasing the policy’s durability.

“We support this because it would spur companies like ours to dramatically increase their investments in clean energy, while leaving more money in the pockets of DC residents to reinvest in local businesses, restaurants and services,” said Tom Matzzie, Founder and CEO of CleanChoice Energy.

The proposed policy would redirect a portion of the revenue raised as tax relief to small businesses. This will total $30 million per year by 2032, thus enhancing the ability of local businesses to remain competitive in the region and to maintain a permanent and robust presence in the city.

“The numbers clearly show that a carbon fee-and-rebate policy is not only the best option to reduce D.C. carbon emissions, but also a sound mechanism for growing a robust economy powered by clean energy,” said Mishal Thadani, Co-Founder of District Solar. “This policy is simple, fair for every stakeholder, and will ultimately attract many new and innovative companies to the District.”