Washington, D.C.

Background Information

The Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is served by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), an independent nonprofit association that brings area leaders together to address major regional issues in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia. MWCOG’s membership is comprised of 300 elected officials from 22 local governments, the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures, and U.S. Congress. The region—ranked one of the top 15 fastest-growing major metro areas in 2011—has a population of almost five million, with an estimated 1.6 million more moving to the area by 2040.

While federal government spending was once the driving force of the region’s economy, today the combination of decreased federal spending and ongoing budget uncertainty is pushing metropolitan Washington dangerously close to a fiscal cliff. As the District of Columbia is the seat of the federal government, and many major federal offices are located throughout the region, the threat of terrorist attack is a major driver of resilience planning, as is climate change. The region has several assets, including an educated workforce, entrepreneurial climate, international connections, vibrant and transit-oriented activity centers, and access to the federal government. Washington, D.C. is one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities.

Team Summary

Each member of this cross-sector team is a leading advocate of climate resilience in metropolitan Washington. Working on multiple efforts at various scales, MWCOG coordinates the work of metropolitan Washington leaders in developing and implementing regional climate and energy goals. MWCOG serves on Washington, D.C.’s Advisory Committee for the 100 Resilient Cities Launch and has shaped this initiative through the development of the D.C. resilience policies and plans over the past several years.

Promising Practices

  • The District of Columbia’s Office of Energy and Environment’s Climate Ready D.C. program involved downscaling climate projections, conducting a vulnerability assessment, and developing a strategic plan for the city to address climate change impacts. The downscaling found a significant projected increase in days annually above 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 100­-year rainfall events. The program examined climate effects on infrastructure, community resources, people, and natural resources, and identified five geographic priority areas that contain numerous assets and have elevated flood risk. The plan contains guidance for increasing the resilience of the District’s infrastructure, development, and communities and neighborhoods, providing strategies for aligning the plan with related planning efforts across District agencies and establishing the necessary governance structures to ensure the plan’s successful implementation.
  • Federal program and grant funds have been a consistent source of funding for resilience in metropolitan Washington for the last eight years, but uncertainty about future federal funding has led the region to instate some creative funding streams, including public-private partnerships, a stormwater credit trading program, forest mitigation banking/fee-in-lieu of service requirements, and local PACE and greenbank programs. There may be opportunities to piggyback onto projects with safe funding sources such as highway funds and Homeland Security funds, or to rely more heavily on state, local, or foundation funding sources.
  • The Environmental Justice (EJ) Toolkit is a resource on existing government measures, practices, and policies aimed at creating fair treatment and equal access in the development, application, and enforcement of environmental policies. The toolkit features a survey of EJ principles, approaches to building EJ capacity, resources, tools, and case studies to assist MWCOG staff, local jurisdictions, and MWCOG stakeholders to set the direction for inclusion of equity in all air quality, energy, and climate planning and policy decisions.
  • Takoma Park is pursuing inclusive engagement for energy resilience. They have prioritized and analyzed actions in their Sustainability and Energy Action Plan based on social justice implications, human health impacts, economic development, and jobs promotion.

Key Challenges

  • Creating a regional vision for climate resiliency that recognizes the synergies with economic competitiveness and public safety.
  • Continuing to spur innovative solutions,­ such as creative financing for implementing infrastructure upgrades with fewer federal resources; there are very large funding gaps in transportation, water, energy, buildings, and communication infrastructure .
  • Managing natural assets for multiple purposes.
    Addressing the compounding stressors on vulnerable populations.