Suraj Sazawal DOEE BOH Testimony

April 28, 2017
Testimony of Suraj K. Sazawal, Policy Advocate of Casey Trees
DOEE Budget Oversight Hearing
Before the Committee on Transpiration and the Environment

Good afternoon Chairwoman Cheh and members of the committee. I am Suraj K. Sazawal, Policy Advocate for Casey Trees. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

The mayor’s budget trumpets the District’s financial strength, noting a significant surplus and more than $1 billion in the rainy day fund. But the proposed budget also sent mixed messages about the impending financial strains created by the federal government’s uncertain direction on environmental policy and spending.

The federal budget put forward contains drastic cuts to many government departments. But few are expected to be hit as hard as the Environmental Protection Agency, which may see its budget slashed by 30 percent. As a result, a host of critical initiatives and programs would be significantly pared back, including climate change research and a federal grant to clean the waterways of the Chesapeake Bay. With just two sentences in its budget plan, the White House relegated the cleanup of a body of water visible from space to a regional effort not worthy of federal support.

Under the steady leadership of Director Tommy Wells, the Department of Energy and Environment has put forward a range of innovative and proactive actions to meet our city’s environmental goals. This includes being the first city in the nation to establish a Green Bank to finance the retrofitting energy inefficient buildings, promoting emission-free public transportation, Canopy 3000, and outlining a number of key actions in the Climate Ready DC Plan to make our city more resilient to the effects of climate change. But these actions will only pay off if they are properly funded.

Federal cuts will create budgetary pressures at the Department that threaten the viability of several environmental and sustainability initiatives. Protecting these programs must be made a priority.

The mayor’s current budget does not provide a consistent local funding stream for programs like RiverSmart Homes, which gives District residents a practical way to reduce the city’s stormwater runoff problems in their own backyards. By encouraging tree plantings and bay friendly landscaping on private property, this modestly priced program is one of the most cost effective ways to help mitigate our city’s environment concerns.

It is also time for the Council to proactively invest in the Department’s programs that promote the health of residents and the environment. This means expanding job training programs the like the Green Zone Environmental Program, where hundreds of young people gain hands-on experience in a variety of environmental sector jobs. The program exposes participants to a wide range of activities, such as installing solar panels, testing water quality, and planting trees. Growing this program would also align with other District commitments to reduce residents’ energy bills through solar energy.

And it means delivering on the promise of the Sustainable DC Plan, by ensuring investment in “forests, meadows and wetlands while providing all residents convenient access to nature and green places.”

Not too long ago, I attended an event where Director Wells described a trip he took with Mayor Bowser to Mexico City for the C40 Mayors conference on urban sustainability. Along with sharing colorful pictures of a mariachi band, Director Wells noted that mayors from around the world looked to our Mayor and to our city as the “leader” on these issues. This fact speaks volumes about how DC is regarded on the global stage, and more importantly, the responsibility our city has for nurturing a healthy environment.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

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