On Earth Day, protesters call on DC to end dependence on fossil fuels

Climate activists marched to the White House on Earth Day, demanding that the nation’s capital wean itself off of “dangerous” fossil fuels.

A diverse coalition of groups organized Saturday’s march, including Greenpeace, Oxfam America, Sunrise Movement, The Sierra Club, Code Pink, Zero Hour, MoCo 350, and Extinction Rebellion DC, the local chapter of a multinational group known for unusual and disruptive protests, often leading to the arrest of its members.

Extinction Rebellion organizer Reilly Polka said their group demands that the D.C. Council stop PROJECTpipes — an ongoing program led by utility provider Washington Gas to replace miles of natural gas pipelines in the District.

“PROJECTpipes does not meet the D.C. Council’s goals to be climate neutral by the 2040s,” Polka said. “Washington Gas is locking us into 40 more years of warming in the city.”

Polka said she understands that people like gas stoves, but the risk of using natural gas is too high. That’s because of the high level of methane present in natural gas distributed to consumers.

“I know it’s something we’ve relied on for a long time,” Polka said. “And (PROJECTpipes) seems like something that makes a lot of sense, except that methane warms the atmosphere 80 times faster than carbon dioxide does.”

In an email exchange, Washington Gas told WTOP that the recent protest hasn’t affected  PROJECTpipes implementation and that the project will actually help the environment.

” (PROJECTpipes) will not only enhance safety and reliability, but will reduce identified green house gas emissions,” Washington Gas Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer Melissa Adams said in a report shared with WTOP.

Adam said replacing old natural gas lines will fix leaks in the system, which lowers emissions.

But for Extinction Rebellion’s Polka, that isn’t enough — that group is calling for D.C. to follow through with a full transition to an electric grid.

“Electrify the city,” Polka said. “There are already plans to do so. We can do it. It’s something that the council has been talking about. Just stop using fossil fuels and electrify the grid.”

Council member and Transportation and Environment Committee chair Charles Allen did not respond to a request for comment on the status of PROJECTpipes. But in early February, Allen did push for a bill that would help low-income households transition to electric stoves and heaters.

A public hearing on that bill, the “Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Amendment Act of 2023,” is scheduled for May 9.

“Ultimately, it’s not about an individual gas stove,” Polka said. “Ultimately, it’s about the billionaires who are deciding that they want to put profit over planet and over people.”

WTOP’s Alejandro Alvarez contributed to this report.

Luke Garrett

Luke Garrett is a D.C. native dedicated to journalism. He is a reporter and the creator, host and producer of the original WTOP podcast, “DMV Download.” The podcast debuted in 2022. On the show, Garrett takes a weekly look at the biggest stories and ideas in the D.C. region.

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