DOEE Budget Testimony of John Boland – 2022

March 29, 2022

Councilmember Mary Cheh
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 108
Washington, DC 20004

Subject: Casey Trees Comments for the Budget Oversight of the Department of Energy and Environment

Good afternoon, Councilmember Cheh, Committee members and staff.

My name is John Boland, and I am the Policy & Advocacy Associate at Casey Trees. Our mission at Casey Trees is to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of our nation’s capital. To accomplish this, we plant trees, advocate for stronger tree and green space protections, and educate the public on the benefits of trees. Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed FY 2023 budget for the Department of Energy and Environment.

Green spaces awash in trees have long defined DC. They are aesthetically beautiful, offer ecosystem benefits such as stormwater treatment and heat island cooling, and, in these last two years, have become instrumental in how we come together as communities and neighbors. Not to mention the famous cherry tree blooms we are right in the middle of. We are very proud of the work we have accomplished in partnership with DOEE to increase canopy coverage across DC, and of the commitment that the District government has made to this work. Future generations are relying on what we accomplish now to ensure their ability to have a healthy environment.

We learned this year that, over the course of 2015 – 2020, DC’s tree canopy shrunk by 1%, from 38% to 37%. This is the equivalent of losing 400 acres of tree cover, or roughly the size of the National Mall. Development is a natural and necessary part of a city’s evolution, but we must do better to ensure that we are not losing what makes DC so incredible along the way. Our goal, as included in the Sustainable DC 2.0 plan, is to achieve and maintain 40% canopy coverage by 2032. We are now a decade away from that deadline and, while we have made great strides over the last decade, we must be as diligent as ever to protect and expand our tree canopy given that our progress is more fragile than we once thought.

Last year’s budget for DOEE included an unprecedented windfall in federal assistance through the American Rescue Plan Act. Many of these funding increases were in one-time federal funds, but we are happy to see that programmatic budgets across the board are above their pre-ARPA levels. We are grateful that the District government recognizes the importance and value of many programs that benefited from ARPA funding, which have now been covered by local funds.

To be more specific, the Natural Resources administration within DOEE is home to many of the conservation programs that benefit our tree canopy goals. Green infrastructure projects are a source of significant overlap between Casey Trees and DOEE. Best Management Practice – BMP – maintenance should be built into DOEE’s budget as a permanent yearly expenditure.

RiverSmart Homes is a source of new tree plantings on private property and emphasizes the role of trees as the most efficient form of green infrastructure. With support from RiverSmart, Casey Trees was able to plant over 1,000 trees last year, with the majority of them located in Wards 5, 7, and 8; helping to cool our most heat sensitive communities. The largest potential for canopy gain, has been and will continue to be through private lot plantings. We need to ensure these programs have the resources they need to not only respond more efficiently to current demand, but also support their necessary expansion, particularly in areas of the District most vulnerable to climate events.

The Mayor’s budget includes funding for the various branches within the Natural Resources administration that is consistent with their growth in recent years, but the budget for the Watershed Protection branch decreased by roughly $9 million and lost two Full-Time Equivalents in staffing. To our knowledge, these changes are due to the funding and personnel being re-allocated to different branches. The text breakdown of the budget does not address this, but we expect that this will not impact the work of the Watershed Protection branch.

While we have made progress in developing and maintain our city’s green infrastructure, the new data showing tree canopy losses are cause for concern. We need allocations for natural resource conservation to outpace development if we wish to make headway on our sustainability goals. We urge the Council to support DOEE’s full budgetary asks, and to seek clarification where there are reductions in funding or personnel for natural resources. Without DOEE’s work, our sustainability goals remain aspirational rather than achievable, but we know that we can make 40% canopy coverage happen with a renewed focus on partnership, conservation, and stewardship.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify and for your consideration.