Brianne Nadeau is a District of Columbia Councilmember serving Ward 1. She serves as chairperson of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee staffed by COG, which coordinates air quality planning in the region. Its members include area elected officials, environmental directors, and state air management and transportation officials.
How did you get into public service?
I grew up in a family that was very involved in causes. For me, that was always political engagement because I wanted to be getting at the root of everything. My first campaign was at age 11, going door to door for a school board candidate. I’ve been involved ever since.
For me, it was always about something that I learned in Girl Scouts—look for work and leave things better than you found them. That has been my driving inspiration all my life and as a Councilmember now. I really love my job. There is so much work to be done. I strive to always leave things better than I find them, even though it’s really challenging sometimes in government to move things. I’m going to keep at it…and also work to cultivate new leaders behind me.
What do you think are some of the region’s biggest challenges?
I think the number one issue for the region that impacts all of the other issues that we’re working on is affordable housing. Until we can get our arms around those challenges as a region, we are still going to be struggling with air quality issues, with transit, with parking, with education, with public safety, and all the other things that are related.
On the D.C. Council I’m the housing chair, but through the work that I’ve been able to do at COG and the relationships I’ve built there, I think we’ve also been able to make some progress in the region.
It’s a very complex issue, and part of the challenge is funding. Part of the challenge is agreeing on the right policies. And, for those of us who live in urban settings, it’s making a commitment to building housing densely that is near transit, and in an affordable way, so that we have an easier time dealing with regional traffic issues. The other piece of that is, of course, strengthening our transit system. That’s something that I know can only be resolved regionally because of the jurisdictions that are involved in strengthening WMATA.
As chair of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee (MWAQC), you’re working to improve the region’s air. What sort of progress has been made?
We have seen a dramatic improvement in air quality in the region over the last ten years. We, in the past year, had only 13 Code Orange days, an indicator of unhealthy air quality. We are doing a great job getting everybody in the region to work together to meet the increasing standards.
Air quality impacts quality of life, and one of the things that we know is that communities in urban settings—often communities of color, often communities with lower incomes—have higher rates of asthma and respiratory disease. We know that that’s because of emissions issues in major cities, whether from manufacturing, vehicle emissions, or building usages. What we’ve done in this region is improve standards – making sure vehicle emissions are being managed better, that building operations are more efficient, and that we’re doing everything that we can to protect the health of our residents.
In any urban setting, not just in the District but around the region, we have to be looking out for those residents that are suffering the most, and making sure that our air quality is up to the standard, but also making sure that people—who really should not have to care what the standard is or isn’t—are experiencing a better quality of life.
How does the District of Columbia benefit from participation at COG?
I really enjoy working with my colleagues from across the region. A lot of times those of us who are elected get really focused on the work before us. It’s always nice to connect with others who are doing similar work nearby. It’s always a great thing to feel like you have a good working relationship with someone that can transfer into other conversations.