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Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia FY 2008-09 Budget Oversight Hearing

Friday, March 13, 2009
George S. Hawkins, Esq., Director, DDOE

Director George S. Hawkins - Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia

FY 2008-09 Budget Oversight Hearing (March 13, 2009)

Good afternoon Chairman Cheh, and members of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. My name is George Hawkins, and I am the Director of the District Department of the Environment. I am pleased to appear before you today in order discuss DDOE’s performance on the Fiscal Year 2008-2009 budgets. The Mayor, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, my colleagues on the cabinet, you, the Chairman of this Committee, and the members of the Council have made it clear that the District needs a world-class Department of the Environment to lead the District’s transformation into a leading international green city. I believe that with the support of the Mayor and the Council, our agency has continued during the past year to make significant progress towards improving the city’s sustainability, and protecting the natural environment of the District.

One of my most important management goals is to promote the value of teamwork. I am accountable for the work of the Department, but I also greatly rely on the leadership, support and efforts of my management team and my excellent staff.

I am joined today by several members of my staff, including Chris Carew, Chief of Staff; Robert Jose, Agency Financial Officer; Bicky Corman, General Counsel; Dr. Hamid Karimi, Deputy Director of the Office of Natural Resources Administration; Rosalind Inge, Deputy Director of the Office of Administrative Services Division; Abukar Abdirahman, Budget Officer; Deborah Thomas, Deputy Director of the Office Environmental Protection; Keith Anderson, Chief of Energy Assistance; Bryan King, Associate Director, Fisheries and Wildlife Division; Kendolyn Hodges-Simons, Director of the Office of Enforcement and Environmental Justice; Sharon Cooke, Director of the Community Outreach Office; Alan Heymann, Director of Public Information; and Brendan Shane, Director of the Office of Policy and Sustainability.

I am joined as well by Jill Wohrle, Executive Assistant and Shane Farthing, Program Analyst, both of whom first came to Department as Capital City Fellows, by MaryLynn Wilhere, Program Analyst; Sylvia Jones, Energy Program Specialist; Stella Tarnay, Green Building Specialist; and by Barry Weise, former Council staffer, and now Legislative and Regulatory Analyst. On a daily basis I rely on the wisdom and skill of this group, and many, many others, in our effort to protect and enhance the environment for all who live, work and play in the District of Columbia.

Before continuing with DDOE’s accomplishments over the past year, let me state here that I am grateful for your leadership on environmental issues. You authored and shepherded the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 to become the law of the District, probably the foremost law of its kind in the country. With the help of your colleagues on the Council, you strengthened the Comprehensive Stormwater Management Enhancement Amendment Act of 2008 with an important coal tar ban amendment. With your colleague Councilmember Bowser, you introduced legislation to protect the health of the residents of the District by amending the Pesticide Operations Act of 1977.

I want to emphasize again today, as I have before, that I believe the environmental protection work of this Committee and Department embodies one of the critical public policy issues that confronts our city, the country and indeed the entire planet. The extinction of species and loss of biodiversity caused mostly by the loss of natural habitat, is occurring today at a rate faster than during the last great mass extinction some 65 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs, and was caused by no less an event than a 6-mile wide meteorite colliding with the planet. A rapid increase in greenhouse gases is causing the planet’s climate to warm, dramatically altering natural habitats and causing catastrophic weather events. We face changes to our climate that put at threat the lives and livelihoods of all people, and particularly those in poorer condition and on coastal areas like the District. Our reliance on certain energy sources is not only a question of cost and global climate change, but also a question of national security. The issues we face here are simply fundamental ones.

In my view, one of the principal solutions to this perilous challenge is found in the urban environment. For example, residents in cities use much less energy than their counterparts in the suburbs, walk more and drive less, and cover less habitat and farm fields with buildings and concrete, than do the sprawling suburban subdivisions. And yet this answer also generates its own set of challenges – those challenges created by more compact living and urban designs, neighborhoods with aging infrastructure, residual contamination from past mistakes, hazards from lead paint and ground level ozone, as well as greatly diminished access to remaining natural areas for our urban residents.

The imperative then is a green urban agenda that captures the great opportunity and benefits that are derived from living in an urban environment, while responding to the challenges that arise from what might well turn out to be a major shift from a sub-urban to a more urban way of life. DDOE is charged with a critical component of the urban agenda – which is to protect and enhance the natural habitat of the District, and to protect and enhance lives of people who live and work in the District. The achievement of these dual goals is a fundamental underpinning of the economic, social and natural vitality that defines any great city of the world.

Let me now direct my comments to highlighting several of DDOE’s many accomplishments during the past year.

Human Resources & Management
Over the course of this past fiscal year, DDOE has continued in its efforts to develop our management team and internal structure. In this respect, we have significantly reduced the number of vacancies in DDOE from 104.5 vacancies at the beginning of FY08, to 64.5 as of March 2, 2009.

We have completed the agency's realignment packet and submitted it to Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining (OLRCB) and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2725 for review. This process included the creation of new organization charts, meeting with managers to review organizational structures and staffing patterns, drafting and establishing position descriptions, and composing and editing functional responsibilities.

The Office of Administrative Services has drafted and implemented several new policies in support of the agency’s functions. These include distribution and collection of Inspector Credentials, the institution of an Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) and a limited Telecommuting Policy, a Revised Promotion Policy, and a Cell Phone Policy.

Additionally, DDOE IT has created a number of QuickBase applications to improve program performance and tracking capabilities, which to name a few, include DDOE Enforcement Tracking, DDOE Project Tracking, FOIA Request Tracking, Grant Tracking, Green Building Tracking Matrix, Public Information Office Work Requests and Request Manager.

Office of the General Counsel
With respect to DDOE’s Office of the General Counsel and enforcement actions, we have settled with CSX Transportation, Inc. in D.C. Superior Court for $661,000. The settlement resolves the District’s claims under its Water Pollution Control Act, which arose out of six CSX railcars falling and dumping contents into the Anacostia on November 9, 2007. The settlement includes a $50,000 penalty, $60,000 for the reimbursement of the District’s response costs, $50,000 for a natural resource restoration project, and $500,000 to establish an “Anacostia Endowment Fund”.

With respect to the health threat from a 20-year-old underground gas tank spill at Riggs Park, on February 5, 2009, DDOE and the Department of Health announced the District’s selected remedy for the Riggs Park community. The remedy addressed both the non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic risks posed by the release of hazardous materials from underground storage tanks located at the gas station formerly owned by Chevron U.S.A., Inc.

In summary, the remedy includes the installation of Vapor Mitigation System (VMS) in 45 homes which data show have unacceptable risk, or have gasoline constituents present that are attributable to groundwater contamination; the imposition of deed restrictions and obtaining covenants at 45 homes; performing health surveys to determine if additional homes require VMS because of the presence of children and other sensitive subpopulations providing new perchloroethylene (PCE) data to EPA for review; and determining whether any additional homes require VMS based on potential for PCE vapor intrusion.

Additionally, DDOE has litigated numerous cases before the Office of Administrative Hearings. The Office of the General Counsel represented DDOE at approximately 10 hearings and settled approximately 40 cases, including an $8,000 case with the Naval District Washington concerning major source air emission reporting violations; and a $10,000 case with Nasir Cheema and Hillcrest Amoco concerning a gas station conversion violation. Finally, DDOE has been assisting in resolving backlog of 300 UST cases.

Office of Enforcement and Environmental Justice
With respect to our Office of Enforcement and Environmental Justice, we have greatly strengthened our efforts, both in the form of legal action against violators, and by appointing a permanent director of the office, Kendolyn Hogdes-Simons.

DDOE has executed and is near completion of a 2-year Memorandum Understanding of Enforcement Initiatives with EPA Region 3, which involves required improvements in filling management and staff vacancies, file management, compliance tracking, best management practices, training and mentoring of new technical staff, security procedures, and development of compliance strategies. DDOE met 33 of the 36 commitments within the first year. The success of this effort is the result of the considerable effort on the part of our individual programs, coordinated by our Office of Enforcement and Environmental Justice.

DDOE has also improved its use of the Civil Infractions process. In particular it has streamlined enforcement processes by developing electronic civil infractions forms and instituting an electronic filing process. Additionally, it has executed an MOU with the Office of Administrative Hearings to simplify the administrative adjudication process. It has developed an in-house civil infractions training program, and trained over 60 staff. Finally, in the past year, DDOE has submitted 287 cases to OAH, a 40% increase over FY07.

Emergency Response
DDOE has responded to a number of emergency situations that contained potentially damaging environmental implications including the January 20, 2008, fire at Jimmy’s Tire Shop. Along with other DDOE divisions, the Air Quality Division arrived on site that day. On the following day, AQD began preliminary air quality monitoring and contacted the U.S. EPA Region 3 office for additional monitoring support. EPA monitored the air quality at the site on January 22 and 23, departing only when particulate concentrations had returned to background levels. The monitoring data collected was provided in a report to DC Fire and Emergency Medical Service.

When an arsenic scare occurred at Fort Reno Park, I personally served as the incident commander for the park closure. Testing via collaboration with EPA was completed in a timely fashion following the National Park Service’s closure of the park. The park was re-opened quickly without endangering the health of area residents.

In each of these cases, including the CSX derailment previously mentioned, and DDOE collaborated with US EPA, other federal partners and fellow District agencies in order to provide a comprehensive response and, if needed, remediation guidance.

Office of Environmental Protection
With respect to DDOE’s Office of Environmental Protection, DDOE has successfully planned and executed the consolidation of the District’s lead programs from DOH and DCRA into DDOE. The consolidation was effective at the start of FY09 and will greatly improve our ability to reduce lead hazards in the District moving forward. We have begun incorporating Healthy Housing components into DDOE’s Lead Outreach program, and have taken over responsibility for enforcement of DC lead laws from DCRA. We will continue to work with EPA to implement the Renovation, Repair and Paint rule (RRP), to establish a healthy housing component to our program, and to address questions related to lead and water through the Independent Water Quality Task Force.

Additionally, we have met or exceeded EPA grant commitments for the Hazardous Waste, Pesticides and Lead Programs, and finalized the Underground Storage Tank Delivery Prohibition Policy as required by federal law. Finally, we have developed new pesticides rules to implement the Loretta Carter Hanes Pesticide Consumer Notification Act of 2008.

Office of Natural Resources
Turning to our Office of Natural Resources, with respect to the Watershed Protection Division and specifically Council’s passage of the Comprehensive Stormwater Management Enhancement Amendment Act of 2008, the very recent publication of our intention to switch to an impervious fee, DDOE’s development of new regulations on erosion and sediment control to accommodate innovative and practical approaches to storm water management such as Low Impact Development and green roofs, all greatly contribute to our efforts to restore the District’s waterways. In addition to policy solutions to reducing stormwater runoff, DDOE continues its strong program work in promoting low-impact design, green roofs, trash mitigation, and erosion and sediment control.

Let me provide you with some statistics: to help protect our rivers, during the past year, DDOE has reviewed 2209 erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans for environmental compliance and collected about $2.5 million in erosion and sediment control plan review fees. We have conducted 8350 stormwater management and erosion and sediment control inspections at construction sites where land disturbance or storm water run off impact will flow into the waters of the District. We have inspected 449 stormwater facilities for maintenance and operation, and have issued 361 specific Enforcement Notices and Directives to persons engaged in land disturbance, storm water BMP owners and persons responsible for maintenance.

DDOE has awarded 10 grants totaling $ 968,000 to local nonprofits and government agencies involved in helping to improve the waters and watersheds of the District. We have received 568 requests from homeowners for the RiverSmart Homes program. We installed 3 Ridge Road bioretention cells to treat roadside runoff, which represents a landmark cooperative effort between DDOE, DDOT and NPS. We have also launched a Low Impact Development (LID) incentive program for homeowners called RiverSmart Homes in the Pope Branch Watershed to install practices that will help reduce stormwater runoff from their property. Practices available include rain barrels, rain gardens, native trees, bayscaping, and porous pavers. Finally, we have completed a trash survey and reduction plan for the Anacostia Watershed and launched 3 trash reduction demonstration projects in the watershed.

With respect to our Water Quality Division, some of our accomplishments include an on-going, year round, monitoring of the city’s surface waters which involves physical, chemical, and biological monitoring, sample analysis, data collection, and data analysis met its annual program measures. As part of the deliverables for the Anacostia 2032 Plan, a real-time water quality monitoring network was established at two sites on the Anacostia River in March 2008. The new water quality data-loggers allows the public to view physical (pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen) water quality conditions on the river. Access to the information is available via the DDOE website.

Finally, DDOE’s Water Quality Division has worked cooperatively with Maryland Department of the Environment and EPA to develop the Anacostia River Nutrient/BOD TMDL that is required by the District of Columbia due to a 2006 Court Order. The document was completed and submitted to EPA for approval in May 2008 - within the court ordered deadline. The TMDL was approved by the EPA in June, 2008.

DDOE’s Energy Office
With respect to an area of DDOE’s activities that we know is very important to you, energy, under your leadership, DDOE worked with your office towards the passage of the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008, which establishes a sustainable energy utility in the District. This legislation places the District and our Department in the forefront of developing and implementing energy efficiency and renewables, and will offer District residents and businesses greater options in reducing their energy consumption and increasing their efficiency.

Accomplishments of our Energy Office include forging a partnership with DCPS to institute energy education programs within the school system. The program “Saving Energy in DC Schools” (SEDS) has been instituted in 18 schools across the District. The program, operated in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy, targets middle and high school students and provides an in-depth energy curriculum as well as teaches students the concept of energy auditing within their schools.

Again, let me provide you with some statistics: this year the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) program successfully completed 690 audits and has a waiting list of over 400 clients currently being scheduled for audits. DDOE continues to receive praise from the performance of our two contractors. Additionally, in FY08 a record 30,506 households were served through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); this equates to about 40% of the eligible population within the District. Currently, the District has the highest penetration rate of all states and U.S. territories.

Approximately 9,000 District households were served during Joint Utility Discount Day (JUDD) which was held on September 30, 2008. Due to the overwhelming demand for energy assistance, DDOE’s Energy Office extended the application period for JUDD by a week. Although these applicants were seen in September they will receive the benefits for FY 09.

Under the 2nd year of the $1.1 million US Health and Human Services Residential Energy Assistance Challenge (REACH), DDOE’s Energy Office in partnership with United Planning Organization and The Energy Program Consortium completed 8,466 LIHEAP eligible clients in FY08, which is nearly doubled from FY 07; visited over 30 DC senior sites to sign up eligible residents; submits 2% request for additional monies of $1.1 million grant which resulted in a $25,000 approval; sent email blasts of REACH newsletters to approx 350 contacts; and hosted an Energy Roundtable Discussion with representatives from government, non-profit groups, utility companies, hospitals, clinics, shelters and other organizations gathered and shared information on services they provide to low-income residents.

In FY08: the Weatherization Assistance Programs (WAP) conducted 763 home energy audits and installed energy-saving measures in 608 low-income dwelling units at an average cost of $2,885 per home; the Low-Income Appliance Replacement Program installed 1,749 high efficiency electric appliances (room A/C and refrigerators) to replace older inefficient models in 926 low-income dwelling units; and the Small Business Energy Efficiency Program conducted energy audits and installed energy-saving retrofits in more than 400 small businesses across the District, at an average cost of $3,000 per business. The energy savings from these efforts are conservatively estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

DDOE’s Communications Office
DDOE’s Communications Office was also very active during the past year by operating a Vector Control Awareness Campaign which produced TV and radio commercials, collateral material, and conducted outreach activities to promote proper trash and food waste disposal practices to reduce the District’s rat population. All commercials and collateral material was produced in the mandatory foreign languages. DDOE worked with the Mayor’s and Council’s Outreach Representatives, DPW, DMV, DHS, Office of Latino Affairs, Office of Asian and Pacific Islanders and the Citywide Call Center--311. During the television and radio ad campaign which started in August, 2008, the call center had 3 times the number of calls from the public reporting rats in public space and requests for the free 32 gallon trash cans. The campaign will be operated again in the spring 2009.

A Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) Awareness Campaign was conducted to inform District residents that DDOE provides financial energy assistance to eligible low-income District households for gas, electricity, oil, coal, wood or propane, which the Communications Office promoted through radio, list serves and press releases. The campaign increased the number of people that applied at the Joint Utility Discount Day from 6,000 to 9,000 people. The total numbers of residents that have applied as of December 29, 2008 are 16, 414 compared to last years 15,064. That is a 9% increase in the number of applicants.

Also, the Communications Office coordinated and participated in over 30 Outreach Events, with the goal of educating and informing District residents about smart choices to reduce air, water and land pollution and become more energy efficient. Press releases, flyers, list serve announcements and e-mails were used to promote the events.

Finally, during the past year, DDOE created and successfully administered the Mayor’s Green Summer Job Corps, the largest city-run youth green-collar jobs initiative in the U.S. The program engaged 300 youth in environmentally connected jobs and educational programming throughout the city. This program offered summer youth employment participants an introduction to green-collar career tracks, as well as to how the environment relates to their communities. Based on this initial success, Green Summer is set to expand to 800 youth in the summer of 2009.

Thank you for the opportunity to proudly recount some of our accomplishments of the past year, however, I would now like to address for a few moment some of the challenges of the immediate future.

As is true for both the District and municipalities across the country, the current economic climate poses daunting challenges for our Department. DDOE has already made budget cuts totaling $2.176 million dollars from our FY09 budget. However, we are committed to finding ways to operate more efficiently and identifying further cost savings, while also maintaining the highest level of service to District communities.

Despite the challenges, we also view the coming year as a year full of opportunity. The new Presidential administration has clearly signaled its strong interest in and commitment to environmental protection and the encouragement of sustainability. One promising indication of this commitment is the extent to which green projects are eligible, and even required, for stimulus funding.

Chairman Cheh, I want to assure you that DDOE is proactively pursuing all available stimulus opportunities in collaboration with our sister agencies, in order to secure funding for projects that will advance our sustainability goals citywide. Among the many opportunities for stimulus funding that DDOE is currently pursuing are significant funds for our Weatherization Assistance Program, the State Energy Program, for Diesel Emissions Reduction efforts, for Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, and monies for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund

Let me conclude by saying that DDOE is looking at the current economic crisis with the perspective that “A crisis is a terrible thing waste”. With every difficulty comes a challenge, and it is our challenge to turn this crisis into an opportunity for a green structural change in the economy. We are therefore underpinning our stimulus efforts with the following Green Stimulus Vision:

We intend to deliver on all of the President’s goals, we are committed to using the stimulus funds to green the city across all programs, we intend to maximize all stimulus benefits available by prioritizing and leveraging them across all appropriate programs, we intend to integrate the private sector in this process, we intend to use the funds to promote green structural change, we intend to use the funds to lay the foundation to be competitive for future green funding, we intend to support the District’s budget goals, and finally, we intend to highlight the role of a green urban agenda.

I thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and look forward to answering any questions the Committee may have.