Interview: Tommy Wells, Director of the District Dept. of the Environment (DDOE)

BY ON June 11, 2015
Tommy Wells with wife, Barbara.  Photo: John Nelson Photography

Tommy Wells with wife, Barbara.
Photo: John Nelson Photography

This is a Moms Clean Air Force exclusive interview with Tommy Wells, Director of the District Dept. of the Environment (DDOE)

What is unique about protecting the District of Columbia’s environmental and health resources?

The District doesn’t have major industries, so vehicle engines, both on-road and off-road, are the main source of local air pollution locally. A significant portion of vehicle miles travelled (VMT), and ensuing pollution generated on the city’s roadways, are caused by vehicles from outside the District. Based on recent (July 2014) data, DC’s (291.7k) registered vehicle population (291.7k) accounts for only 7.5% of the region’s 3.9 million vehicle population.

Transported pollution from outside DC boundaries has a significant role in District’s air quality. Therefore, we must coordinate with multiple jurisdictions including the Federal Government to address air quality issues.

The District is also unique in that we are situated at the convergence of two wild rivers. And, we have an incredible urban habitat that is filled with wildlife. From otters to eagles, all of our wildlife depends on healthy air quality to thrive just as much as we humans do.

Are you worried about the effects of climate change on the children of Washington, DC and future generations.

We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change in the District, from record-breaking heat waves to flooding caused by sea level rise along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. Hotter temperatures, especially extremely hot days and heat waves can have serious negative health impacts on young children and seniors — and on future generations. We have made a lot of progress to clean up the air in Washington region, but hotter and more humid summers make it harder to combat smog pollution. For all of these reasons, the District is committed to reducing carbon emissions citywide 80% by 2050 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. At the same time, we are committed to helping families, businesses, and our public health system prepare for a changing climate. For example, we are planting shade trees, expanding parks and green space, and even painting rooftops white to help keep the city cooler.

Given the lack of energy generation or heavy industry in DC, what are the main ways DC can contribute to reductions in air pollution and in climate-causing greenhouse gases.

The District Government is working together with residents and business to combat climate change and cut air pollution in a number of ways. While we do not have power plants in the District, the electricity we use to power our homes and businesses is generated by power plants in surrounding states that contribute to the District’s air pollution and carbon footprint. By ensuring our buildings are more energy-efficient, installing distributed renewable energy like rooftop solar, and changing behaviors to save energy, we can cut carbon pollution.

The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) has vigorous programs to enforce the regulations for many of the smaller sources of air pollution, such as engine idling, gas stations, auto body shops, and dry cleaners.

The DC Sustainable Energy Utility has a number of programs that can help homeowners and businesses save energy and money too. We can also continue to expand options for biking, walking and taking transit to reduce pollution from cars.

All of the efforts the District has made to reduce energy consumption, including the Green Building Act and the RiverSmart green roofs program, will have broader air quality and sustainability benefits.

Is there anything you’d like to share that is important for Moms Clean Air Force members to know?

The DC Metro area has attained health-based standards for two out of six of the pollutants for which EPA has set standards. We are awaiting monitoring data to confirm the attainment status of three of the four remaining pollutants.

Tommy Wells is the acting director of the District Department of the Environment (DDOE). Appointed January 2015, he is chiefly responsible for protecting the environment and conserving the natural resources of the District of Columbia. Previously he served as the DC Councilmember representing Ward 6, a position he held since 2006. A passionate innovator and student of cutting edge solutions, Tommy earned his law degree from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University in 1991 and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in 1983. He and his wife, Barbara, a writer and arts enthusiast, are residents of Ward 6 in the District.



TOPICS: Climate Change, Environment, Politics, Washington DC