The US capital will be the second East Coast city to ban fossil fuels and water heaters in most new buildings, following last week’s DC Council unanimous approval of two bills and separate climate legislation committing to make the Washington DC carbon neutral by 2045.

By 2026, all new Washington DC buildings, as well as substantial renovations, will have to be “constructed to a net-zero-energy standard construction”  – the bill text reads – meaning that they will have to generate as much energy as they consume. Starting in 2029, the bill also requires independent audits to be conducted every three years to report on compliance with the act’s requirements.

The new legislation was unanimously passed by the D.C. Council last week, along with a ban on fossil fuels for backup power generation in all new buildings except those “essential to protecting public health and safety.” It now heads to Mayor Muriel Bowser – who is said to be in favour of both bills – for implementation.

In the US, buildings account for almost 40% of national carbon dioxide emissions. Washington DC buildings account for close to 75% of the District’s emissions, according to Councilmember Mary Chen, who first introduced the bills. They are mainly generated from the electricity and natural gas used to power heating and cooling systems, hot water, and cooking appliances.

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The Clean Building Legislation – which itself does not create the new net-zero building codes but rather instructs the mayor to do so by no later than the end of 2026 – puts the District ahead of most states and cities across the country in terms of climate action.

Besides that, the Council also unanimously passed the Climate Commitment Act, codifying for the first time the city’s greenhouse gas reduction targets and bringing forward the deadline to reach carbon neutrality previously set for 2050 by 5 years. By no later than 2030, D.C. will need to cut carbon emissions by 60%.

Once the bills are enacted, the US capital will join New York as the first East Coast cities to institute a ban on most fossil fuel heat. However, environmental activists say it is still not enough. 

Since April, Extinction Rebellion DC activists have been campaigning against Washington Gas –  D.C.’s sole distributors of natural gas. They are protesting a multimillion-dollar planned investment in new gas pipes throughout the city.

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