Advocates concerned PSC will continue to rubber stamp program that will add roughly $4,072 in gas bills over next five years, undermine DC’s climate goals
August 16, 2023
To protect DC residents from increasingly unaffordable gas bills and meet the District’s climate commitments, the DC Council must intervene before the DC Public Service Commission approves the latest $671.8 million installment of Washington Gas’s $4.5 billion methane pipeline program known as Project Pipes. According to a letter sent by a coalition of interfaith and environmental advocates today, this is a crucial moment for the Council to consider the harmful health, economic, and climate effects of this project before the Commission is scheduled to rule on the utility’s request by January 1, 2024.
Advocates wrote Councilmember Charles Allen, chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, calling on the Committee to ask Commissioners to testify on the impact of Project Pipes, a program that has ballooned in costs 350% since its inception in 2014 while failing to adequately reduce emissions or mitigate the gas leaks that pose the highest safety risks. It also comes as the District has made several strides to meaningfully reduce emissions from DC’s buildings through electrification, making further spending on Washington Gas’s methane system an unnecessary and harmful burden on DC residents.
“As long as the Public Service Commission continues to allow Washington Gas to pour millions of dollars of DC residents’ money into replacing its aging fracked gas system, we will never be able to achieve our climate commitments, and instead we will worsen our health, pollute our climate, and saddle residents with skyrocketing home heating costs,” said Mark Rodeffer, co-chair of Beyond Gas DC and a leader of the Sierra Club DC Chapter. “The DC Council has made clear that the path to achieve DC’s climate commitments is electrification, but the Commission sets back our progress every time it rubber stamps dirty energy infrastructure spending by Washington Gas. It’s time for the DC Council to step in.”
Since 2014, the DC Council has passed multiple laws focused on drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning buildings – which account for 72% of the District’s climate pollution – off of fossil fuels and toward highly efficient, all-electric alternatives. This includes a mandate to become carbon neutral by 2045, electrify all new construction or major renovations beginning in 2026, and transition District-owned buildings off of fossil fuels. Despite this, Washington Gas has plowed ahead with its costly pipeline spending program, passing the ever-increasing costs onto a shrinking customer base. In the next five years alone, DC gas customers will face an estimated $4,072 increase in bills to pay for the latest installment of Project Pipes.
“While DC residents are working together to electrify our homes, go solar, and do our part to address climate change, the 175-year-old Washington Gas has been proposing one wrong-headed gas pipe project after another without scrutiny from the body tasked with regulating them,” said Joelle Novey, Director of Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA). “DC residents already pay dearly for having to buy the fuel that Washington Gas is selling us. We pay not only with dollars but also with asthma attacks, worries about explosive leaks, and the loss of trust that our leaders really intend to meet the District’s climate commitments. We call on our Council members to ask the questions that the Commission refuses to: Why are we wasting billions of constituents’ dollars to perpetuate the harms of burning gas when real solutions are already here?”
In response to Washington Gas’s multi-million-dollar request, more than 370 DC residents submitted public comments decrying the pipeline spending project and calling for a public hearing at the Commission to evaluate the safety, economic, and climate impacts of the proposal. The Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, has submitted comprehensive evidence on the harms of methane gas to the Commission in various proceedings since 2019. However, the Commission has continually failed to hold Washington Gas accountable to DC’s climate laws and emission reduction requirements. Given the Commission’s inaction, the DC Council must increase transparency by holding a public hearing on the impact of Project Pipes and how alternatives focused on increasing affordability and improving safety and public health, such as the Healthy Homes Act, measure up in comparison to the proposed massive fossil fuel pipeline project.
“At a time when long-time low- and moderate-income residents are struggling to afford the rising cost of living, threatening to push them out of the District, our city should invest in programs that lift people up rather than drag people down. Since it began nearly 10 years ago, Project Pipes has only increased costs for residents while failing to improve safety or cut climate pollution. As more residents realize the health and economic benefits of electric alternatives, our most vulnerable Washingtonians will shoulder an even heftier financial burden. The DC Council must step in today and protect residents from an unaffordable future and invest in solutions like the Healthy Homes Act that will lift up tens of thousands of residents,” concluded Pastor André Greene, Varick Memorial AME Church and Washington Interfaith Network Strategy Team.