The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Corruption is drowning the District. Rebuild integrity with climate leadership.

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Denise Robbins is communications director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

This month in the District, flash floods came and went, but the flood of corruption controversies continues to flow. This could be terrible news for D.C.’s flagship climate policy.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) is battling a crashing wave of accusations and revelations. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) disparaged Evans’s “corruption” and “extensive wrongdoing” in calling for Evans to resign as chairman of the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The Greater Greater Washington editorial board bemoaned Evans’s dealings as “toxic to effective policy” while calling for him to resign from the D.C. Council. All this came after investigations found Evans has shown a “pattern” of “knowingly” violating ethics rules.

The D.C. Council finally removed Evans as chair of the now-disbanded Finance and Revenue Committee and agreed to open an additional investigation.

But as council member David Grosso (I-At Large) pointed out, it took far too long for the council to reach this point. Meanwhile, Evans continues to sit on the council committee that now handles finances and is already embedded in a new controversy.

These scandals have blackened the integrity of the D.C. government. Residents have lost faith. I am among them. We are horrified. The council should be doing everything it can to rebuild its integrity.

One place it could start: stronger oversight of the D.C. Green Bank.

The Green Bank is a big money-mover and is key to the success of the District’s historic clean-energy law. The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act, championed by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and passed last December, sets strong climate commitments across almost every sector of the economy, from 100 percent clean electricity to groundbreaking building efficiency standards to innovative zero-carbon public transportation goals. It sets a national precedent. It also will engage with the newly established Green Bank to fund clean energy and efficiency projects. The bank is expected to attract $5 in private investment for every $1 from the D.C. government, totaling $350 million for efficiency upgrades, clean-energy job training and more.

Yet the Green Bank is already embroiled in its own controversies, and the projects haven’t even begun. Two of the six current board members, responsible for directing this large chunk of public money, pose massive potential conflicts of interest.

Edward Hubbard is a lobbyist for the Renewable Fuels Association and is approved to serve as an expert in “clean energy.” Ironically, the council determined that he held no conflicts of interest because biofuel is excluded from the Green Bank’s definition of “sustainable projects” it can support. (Where, then, is his clean-energy expertise?) Furthermore, the biofuel industry has an inherent interest in preventing electric vehicles from coming online. This is a major conflict of interest.

And Todd Monash, nominated for his experience in finance, is married to Monte Monash, chief executive of Monash Advisory Group. This firm lobbies for companies in “wastewater, transportation and green infrastructure.” Yes, the same industries that will be in the running for funding.

The council faced a dilemma: If it rejected these two nominees, there would not be enough board members for a quorum, and the essential projects the Green Bank will fund would be on hold indefinitely.

But this situation simply begs for oversight to make sure connections are not abused. Yet oversight is scant. The board members are expected to recuse themselves and report conflicts through “self-checks.”

Wasn’t Evans supposed to “self-check”?

The D.C. Council can and should do much better than this.

For starters, every board member could make his or her list of potential conflicts of interest available to the general counsel at the Green Bank, which could ensure members are properly recusing themselves. Then, the Green Bank could require the members to publicly track how often they recuse themselves. The D.C. Council could pass an amendment that requires the Green Bank to establish these strong oversight policies as law.

Yes, doing this would go above and beyond the current code of ethics. But as Greater Greater Washington aptly put it, “The effect of corruption in government is to drain public confidence in any action of government.” Self-checks are simply not working. Above-and-beyond is necessary.

The astronomical flash floods and heat wave we witnessed this month were a reminder about what the climate crisis will mean in the District. D.C. leaders have an incredible opportunity to show the rest of the country what real climate leadership means.

Let’s hope they’re up for it.

Read more:

Sam Bleicher: Bad news for environmental justice in Virginia

Brent Walls: Keep your pipelines out of Maryland

William C. Baker: The Chesapeake Bay’s environmental success story is in danger