Rosa Lee, a resident in northeast D.C. and volunteer with Washington Interfaith Networks, talks about learning the harmful pollutants from natural gas. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Rosa Lee, a resident in northeast D.C. and volunteer with Washington Interfaith Networks, talks about learning the harmful pollutants from natural gas. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

Rosa Lee, a decadeslong Ward 7 resident, never thought twice about using gas for cooking and heating her home. But since joining Washington Interfaith Network’s efforts to monitor methane leaks around the city two years ago, she’s become concerned about the impacts of natural gas on her health and that of her neighbors. 

“In River Terrace, most of the homes here have gas and people have lived here since the 1950s. And of course we have all kinds of high rates of asthma and cancer,” Lee said. “When I was raising my daughter here, she had asthma.”

Lee and other Washington Interfaith Network advocates have been talking about switching to alternatives to gas as a way to both protect people’s health and reduce greenhouse gasses. Thanks to a massive climate and health care bill President Joe Biden signed into law last month, many low- and moderate-income homeowners across the city will soon have access to funding for electric appliances. 

The rebates include up to $8,000 for an electric heat pump for space heating, $1,750 for a heat pump water heater and $840 for electric stove, among others. In total, low-income households could get up to $14,000 for electrifying and improving energy efficiency, both of which lead to lower utility costs

“These are really significant numbers that can really help fill the gap,” said Lara Levison, the Clean Energy Committee Chair for Sierra Club DC. “Our main concern at the Sierra Club with pushing forward with electricity has been ‘how do we ensure that lower-income households in D.C. can make this transition and not be left behind?’”

The new law, titled the Inflation Reduction Act, addresses a wide range of needs, from capping Medicare users’ insulin costs to providing tax credits for electric cars. Democrats used a process called reconciliation to pass it without needing Republican support.  

“It really brings together many different issues that have been languishing,” Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said. “It contains many measures that are helpful for the District, including some I have tried to get out for a long time.”

The rebates for home electrification aren’t the only provision in the Inflation Reduction Act that could help the District tackle air pollution. The law boosts funds for urban tree planting and provides money for increased air pollution monitoring in disadvantaged communities. Like most of the country, D.C. has seen its air quality improve significantly since 2000 but those improvements have not been spread evenly. 

Fine particle pollution, which increases risks for health problems like lung cancer and strokes, is higher in D.C.’s historically Black and brown neighborhoods. One 2021 study published in the journal GeoHealth found that some neighborhoods in Southeast experience more than four times as many pollution-related premature deaths as some wealthy areas in Northwest do. 

“A lot of times, especially people living in a Black community, you just think it’s part of the deal: ‘I live across from a service plant and it’s producing toxins. I’m sick, not well, but that’s just part of life,’” Lee said. “That’s not how it should be.”


What Homeowners Should Know About Home Electrification Rebates

What is covered?

The program offers rebates to offset or fully cover the costs of installing electric appliances or improving a home’s energy efficiency. Covered projects include the installation of electric stoves, electric heat pumps for space or water heating, upgraded insulation, electric wiring, or breaker boxes.

Who has access? 

Homeowners making less than 150% of the median income qualify for some of the rebates; in D.C., this includes households making up to around $136,000 annually. Households 80% or less of the median income (around 72,500 in D.C.) can get the full amounts. 

How much is available? 

Depending on income, households can get 50% or 100% of the cost of the projects, up to $14,000 total. Households can’t get additional money beyond what the project costs. 

When does it start?

According to the legislation, rebates should become available on Jan. 1, 2023. 

Why does it matter?

Switching to high-efficiency electric appliances lowers utility bills and reduces indoor air pollution from gas stoves. Gas appliances, even when they work without any leaks, cause higher levels of nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants that increase risks for asthma attacks, cancer and diabetes.

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