Housing Complex

City’s Climate Action Plan, Ambling Along

In general, D.C. has a pretty commendable environmental record: Talking points include lots and lots of green roofs and LEED-certified buildings, working towards a greenhouse gas inventory, a Sustainability Energy Utility that's finally up and running, and impressive renewable power purchasing.* But in terms of planning for climate armageddon, D.C.'s falling behind the cities it would like to consider its peers.

Just look at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, of which D.C. is neither a participant nor an affiliate. Last week, they announced a partnership with the World Bank—which has a significant base of operations in D.C.—to help the world's biggest cities mitigate and adapt to global warming. New York City launched PlaNYC back in 2007, and Chicago has already started retrofitting itself for a warmer and damper future. Even cities that don't consider themselves mega, like Seattle, Houston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, finalized and started implementing climate action plans years ago.

That made me wonder: What happened to D.C.'s blueprint for adaptation? A draft plan came out in September, outlining everything that was already happening and things that should continue to happen, mostly in the areas under direct government control. Comments were due in November. And then nothing, likely due to transition in the Wilson Building. Now, the District Department of the Environment says it'll get the process rolling again this month, which probably means the final plan will get approved somewhere around a year after the draft was released.

Not exactly the fierce urgency of now, is it?

Chris Weiss, director of the D.C. Environmental Network, says that unlike Michael Nutter in Philadelphia or Michael Bloomberg in New York, the District's mayors haven't put much on the line for climate issues.

"It's not that we haven't achieved something in D.C., but there's no real leadership on the top," Weiss says. "The energy behind it is really agency driven, and they're just looking at what is possible at this point...I think what's really missing is the vision part of it."

I do understand that the District is moving forward on the projects the plan identifies, and hope that keep us on track to meet the emissions goals the plan sets forth. But as things stand, it seems likely that the District's first benchmark—reducing the government's greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 2006 levels by 2012—will come and go unmet.

* Original version incorrectly stated that green power purchasing was driven by the federal government.

  • http://greatergreaterwashington.org/ericfidler/ Eric F.

    Except for New York, we already have higher transit ridership than those cities. We have also created a bike lane and bike sharing infrastructure for bikes, which are zero-emissions vehicles. We have a lot of neighborhoods where walking is easy and practical. Gas and car insurance are expensive, thus further discouraging driving. Many neighborhoods have scarce parking, thus further discouraging driving. I would bet that aside from New York, our average home size is probably smaller than all those other cities, meaning they require less energy to heat and cool. (West coast cities have a milder climate, so that may offset their home sizes)

    Just because we don't have slick marketing and press conferences on a climate plan doesn't mean we've adopted a Dick Cheney climate policy. DC is a lower-emissions city by design.

  • Jack Love

    @Eric F -

    All true, but the leadership to maintain a climate- and resource-friendly approach needs to come from the top, and it's lacking.

  • Scott

    Lydia,

    One correction in your article "and impressive renewable power purchasing (though most of the District's proficiency on that point comes from the feds)."

    The District Government is by far the major driver of Green Power purchasing and why DC is ranked #1 right now with EPA. 50% of the District Governments electiricity is sourced from wind. The feds are actually quite lacking on this front right now.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Eric F.

    Goodness gracious, did I imply anything of the sort? Of course D.C. has natural advantages--but there's always room for improvement.

    @Scott

    Yup, that was careless, I realize what I did now. Fixed, thankyou.

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