The Green New Deal, the economic and environmental plan most prominantly championed by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has sweeping ideas for change in national policy. But what would a more localized Green New Deal for DC look like?
That's the question Councilmember Charles Allen asked while promoting his Distributed Energy Resources Authority (DERA) 2.0 working group. The Green New Deal aims to stimulate the economy by tackling economic inequality as well as environmental issues like climate change. It has as much in common with the three C's of Teddy Roosevelt's Square Deal (conservation, corporate control, and consumer protection) as it does the three R's (relief, recovery, reform) of FDR's New Deal.
There are several programs, some that GGWash has covered in the past, that could help DC to achieve the goals outlined in the national Green New Deal Resolution. Some of the requirements (like spurring growth in clean manufacturing) and projects (like investing in research and development) make little sense for the District government, but most do, at least in part. Here's an overview of how DC could take action towards these goals.
Goal 1: Net zero greenhouse gas emissions
First up, energy. DC just passed an ambitious Renewable Energy law that requires all of DC's electricity to come from renewable energy by 2032. But that's only one part of the District's greenhouse gas portfolio, and even in the electricity realm, more could be done. A local Green New Deal could increase subsidies for local renewable energy like rooftop solar; expand DERA; and commit to adding similar projects to every DC-owned property. The more DC generates energy here, the less it buys from somewhere else.
DC could create a District Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that could, among other things, install free cool roofs for anyone who wanted one. DC could subsidize gas-to-electric conversions for residences and buildings; subsidize geothermal conversions, and require all-electric buildings in the near future. These conversions would also help create local jobs.
Next, transportation. The Green New Deal could do more to reduce emissions in the transportation sector by reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and futher encouraging zero-emission vehicles.
To work towards this, the District could take street space from cars and turn it over to transit and bikes; create a congestion fee for downtown; charge more for residential parking permits and on-street parking and eliminate parking minimums; raise the gas tax; expand transit, biking and walking; replace all buses with zero-emission buses; invest in high-speed rail; pass the transportation benefits and equity act, increase subsidies for zero emission vehicles and charging stations, and eliminate subsidies for alternative greenhouse-gas emitting vehicles.
If DC wanted to get to zero transportation emissions, it could also cap the number of greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles it registers each year, and lower it over time. Further investments in composting, recycling, and waste-to-energy conversion would also reduce emissions and provide jobs. It could also invest more in neighborhood schools to encourage more of the 75,000 DC students who go to school outside of the neighborhoods to do so closer to home.
Finally, land use. DC can alter its zoning to increase the density of development and decrease sprawl.
Dense, pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented neighborhoods produce fewer per capita greenhouse emissions than sprawl does. Green Zoning that allows denser development, especially near jobs and transit, will be needed if DC is serious about reducing emissions. As Tracy Loh recently wrote, the region has a lot of room for improvement in terms of planning for growth near Metro.
Density facilitates bike commuting as well as transit use, which in turn reduces car use. The District could increase by-right density and ask the federal government to raise or remove the height limit, especially close to Metro stations and high-capacity bus corridors. This doesn't have to be a sacrifice: DC's most beloved and iconic neighborhoods are the densest ones, and most of them would be illegal in much of the country.
Many of these ideas and more are already identified in DC's Visualize 2045, Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Sustainable DC, DC Wildlife Action and Move DC plans. DC would just need to commit to them with real investments.
Goal 2: Create good, high-wage jobs
Many of the subsidies mentioned above and below would be expected to create more high-quality jobs. More transit, for example, would require more bus drivers and train operators. Solar panels don't install themselves. But creating a CCC for the District would be a more explicit step.
The District CCC could be a guaranteed employment program for the young, for citizens returning from prison, and for the long-term unemployed. It could perform several types of labor-intensive conservation work like cleaning up trash, removing kudzu, building and maintaining footpaths, clearing snow from sidewalks and trails, and planting and maintaining trees. A half dozen states already have a local form of the CCC, so the model already exists.
Goal 3: Invest in the infrastructure to meet the challenges of the 21st Century
In addition to an expansion of transit, a local Green New Deal could invest heavily in rebuilding our streets as green and complete streets that provide adequate space for trees, bikes, pedestrians and the capture and filtering of storm water; and it could spend money on climate change mitigation infrastructure and expanded bikeshare.
Goal 4: Secure a clean and healthy environment
Despite DC's urban status (or perhaps becaue of it), there's plenty of oppotunity to restore natural ecosystems and clean up hazardous sites. The District could restore the channelized and buried streams within the District, such as Oxon Run and Pope Branch, and provide more funding to the remediation and site response program, for example.
Goal 5: Promote justice and equity
Some justice and equity elements are already addressed because so many of these programs interesect with these issues. Safe streets are more equitable streets, better transit is a powerful tool for equity, and there is nothing just or equitable about who's causing global warming and who will suffer for it.
The Green New Deal highlights affordable housing, something our region desperately needs more of, especially as Amazon moves in. Over the years GGWash has covered numerous ways the District government can create more affordable homes. DC should also ensure that the housing the District already has is habitable.
Higher density can also aid in making housing more affordable, especially if more housing is added to detached single-family home neighborhoods, which are often exclusive. Upzoning those areas and adding affordable and “missing middle” housing could help a lot of people.
A local Green New Deal could include funds to construct and/or subsidize housing for low-income, workforce, and lower middle class families and individuals; end detached single family-only housing zoning; and make other changes to zoning that increase density. It could use subsidies to get more services close to residents, similar to the “20 minute neighborhood” plan in Portland.
Paying for all of this infrastructure, cleanup, and employment will cost money. However, DC can pay for it in a way that will also help to achieve these goals.
Some revenue sources like a congestion tax, gas tax increase, and higher costs for parking and registration have already been mentioned. Other possible sources include lowering the inheritance tax exemption back to the 2014 value, rolling back other tax cuts for the wealthy from the 2014 cut, land value taxation, a tax on green house gas emissions, “pay as you throw” trash fees, a tax on meat, and/or a wealth tax. In fact, even if these tax and fee changes were revenue neutral, they should help to achive the goals.
The District has made great strides towards creating a greener and more equitable city, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. A well-crafted Green New Deal for the District of Columbia could become a blueprint for the rest of the country.