Congress requires the Department of Defense to do a cost-benefit analysis of LEED and ASHRAE 90.1-2010

Many people, including me, have noted that the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), signed into law by President Obama on December 31, 2011, prohibits the Department of Defense (“DoD”) from using any appropriated funds to achieve the two highest levels of green building certification offered by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) Program – platinum and gold.  The NDAA, however, does provide that the Secretary of Defense can certify a building under LEED gold or platinum standards if certification imposes no additional cost to the DoD, or if the DoD conducts a cost-benefit analysis of the project and there is a demonstrated payback for implementing energy improvements or sustainable design features.

More interesting, upon further reflection, is that the bill requires that by June 30, 2012 the Defense Secretary must provide Congress with a report on the energy efficiency standards the DoD uses for military construction and repair.  The report must include:

  1. A cost-benefit analysis as well an examination of the return on investment and long-term payback of LEED, ASHRAE 189.1 and ASHRAE 90.1-2010; and,
  2.  A new DoD policy on energy efficient construction based on the cost-benefit and ROI analysis.

 The methodology for assessing the "cost-benefit" and return on investment of the standards is not specified.  Given that life-cycle costing makes the ROI of energy efficiency and other green features much more attractive, the standard that is used will be significant.   

The proposed DoD "policy" could also be used by Congress as a model to impose on the other Federal agencies, which mostly use LEED-Silver as their building standard.

Look out for a debate in the middle of the year over whether LEED and ASHRAE 90.1-2010 should be scrapped from DoD (and potentially other agency) requirements because they fail the "cost-benefit" analysis. 

Congress Introduces New "Energy Efficiency" Legislation

Contrary to common belief that nothing is really happening in green building at the Congressional level these days, I provide the following two counterexamples. Of course, neither of these efforts are designed to promote energy efficiency or green building, but that doesn't mean that nothing is happening.

 An amendment to the Senate Appropriations Bill for Energy and Water introduced by Senators Wicker (R-MS), Boozman (R-AR), and Inhofe (R-OK) would essentially eliminate the use of LEED and Energy Star for DOE green building programs.  According to the NRDC:  

This rider would prevent the Department of Energy (DOE) from using strong green building energy rating standards. The amendment limits DOE to using only green building standards that are developed and approved in accordance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rules. Such a requirement would effectively limit DOE to using only the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Green Globes building standards.The amendment would disallow the use of many other strong rating systems, including LEED, EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager, and EPA Energy Star Homes, which have substantially increased the number of environmentally-friendly buildings in our country.
 

In other news, Rep. Charles J. Fleischmann [R-TN-3] introduced a bill yesterday in the House H.R.3441 to repeal the Department of Energy's home weatherization assistance program.  The DOE weatherization assistance program provides funding to states to weatherize the homes of low income households to make them more energy efficient.  According to the WAP website:

During the past 33 years, WAP has provided weatherization services to more than 6.4 million low-income households. Families receiving weatherization services see their annual energy bills reduced by an average of about $437, depending on fuel prices.  

According to a recent release from the National Association for State Community Services Programs, the WAP received $5b in funding from ARRA, which weatherized 534,208 low-income houses through August 2011. This made the WAP seventh out of approximately 200 federal programs funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) in jobs created or retained, with 14,090 jobs  for the third quarter beginning July 1 and ending September 30, 2011.

The bill is not yet available from the GPO, but it can be followed on Thomas through this link

 

A Love Canal Moment--What The Deepwater Horizon Spill Can Do For Green Legislation

Comprehensive federal environmental regulation does not come easily.  First, there is the difficulty of crafting scientific regulations.  Then there are the entrenched interests to be combated, both in the private sector, and with the states and local governments who may have had authority prior to federal regulation. Compounding these issues is the high cost of regulation and enforcement itself.  Criticisms abound from the right--too much regulation--and the left--too little.  Even after regulations are passed, the government can expect years of litigation over the implementation of regulations.  What congressman needs that kind of headache?  

It takes a galvanizing catastrophe to catapault environmental regulation to the front of the federal stage.  In 1978, Niagara Falls, New York became the subject of national and international attention, controversy, and eventual environmental notoriety following the discovery of 21,000 tons of toxic waste that had been buried beneath the neighborhood by Hooker Chemical. Residents were found to have numerous health problems, including cancer and mental retardation.  After the dump was discovered and 800 families relocated, Congress was motivated to pass the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or Superfund Act, which requires polluters to remediate toxic sites. 

Deepwater Horizon needs to be this generation's Love Canal moment.  Congress has an unparallelled opportunity to capitalize on the anger, the shock and the awareness of the fragility of the environment currently in the zeitgeist  to pass comprehensive energy legislation.  Thank god, Love Canal moments do not come along often.  It would be a pity to waste it.  

What The USGBC's Top 10 Green Building Legislation List Tells Us About The State Of Federal Regulation Of Green Buildings

Last week, the USGBC announced its list of the Top 10 Pieces of Green Building Legislation in the 111th Congress.  Top of the list were the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the Stimulus Bill, and the American Clean Energy and Security Act, better known as Waxman Markey.  I have posted about these pieces of legislation extensively--here for Waxman-Markey posts and here for ARRA posts.  So I was interested to see what the rest of the list had to offer in terms of overall perspective on Federal regulation of green buildings:

1. It's all about incentives.

Heaven forbid that Congress should force anyone to do anything.  With the exception of Waxman-Markey, the bills selected by the USGBC are all incentive based, providing funds for energy efficiency, water savings, etc. 

2. It's not very innovative.

There are only two bills on the list which I consider to be innovative or interesting.  The Federal Personnel Training Act of 2010 (yet to be introduced) which focuses on training federal personnel to operate and maintain high performance buildings, and S. 1619, the Livable Communities Act of 2009 which seeks to establish an Interagency Council on Sustainable Communities and provides $4 billion in grants to incentivize integrated community planning and implementation of sustainable projects. I like the first bill because it recognizes the need to raise the skills of implementing federal employees to realize the benefits of high performance buildings, and I like the second because it recognizes the linkage between planning and sustainability.   

3. Building Codes are not addressed.

Waxman-Markey, and its Senate counterpart The American Clean Energy And Leadership Act, both have some provision for creating a national energy efficient building code.  The other bills, however, do not attempt to address the key policy lever of building codes to enhance sustainable construction and save resources. This is probably because of the enormous political fight involved, both in wresting control of building codes away from states and local governments, and with the private interests involved in the building industry.   

Will The Separation Of Powers Kill Climate Change Action? Call In the Green Deal Coalition

I promised a post on Obama's State of The Union, but in mulling over my response to the speech and several other events which have occurred in the days that followed, I realized that the issue which needs to be addressed is the degree to which the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of the government of the United States will serve to delay or derail real regulatory action on climate change (and green building), even where a strong executive seeks to pursue these goals.

The only hope is for Republican and Democratic senators concerned about climate change to form a coalition with the Obama administration.  This will require pressure from a new New Deal coalition--a "Green Deal" coalition of citizens, corporations concerned about the impact of climate change on their businesses, unions seeking new clean energy and green construction jobs, minorities seeking access to the middle class and political machines seeking a big win. If these factions can align behind climate change regulation, real legislative progress is possible.

Our government is one of limited, separated powers.  The Executive Branch has only three real avenues of power--administrative, diplomatic and rhetorical.

Over the past few months, the Obama administration has been using the administrative tools within the delegation of executive power to boost climate change regulation.  On December 7, 2009, The EPA made an endangerment finding with respect to greenhouse gases. On January 7, 2010, the SEC issued guidelines regarding corporate disclosure of climate change risk.  On October 5, 2009, Obama issued an Executive Order requiring all federal agencies to assess their environmental impact, and setting aggressive green building requirements for federal facilities, followed on January 29, 2010 with an announcement pledging  to reduce the federal government's greenhouse gas pollution by 28 percent by 2020. 

Obama also used his diplomatic authority to forge an international accord at Copenhagen, however limited.  All 55 countries, responsible for more than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, submitted plans to curb their impacts as of 1/31/10.  

Finally, using his rhetorical power, in Obama's State of The Union, he tied investments in clean energy to economic growth, and encouraged the Senate to pass a clean energy bill:

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history -– (applause) -- an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investments in clean energy -– in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (Applause.) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. (Applause.) It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. (Applause.) And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. (Applause.)

I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation. (Applause.)

In short, Obama is doing everything within his delegation of authority to enhance climate change regulation.  But, at the end of the day, the President cannot make laws.  He cannot force corporations or citizens or even states to undertake major changes to their actions which would be necessary to make dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  He cannot withhold federal funds from states that fail to regulate or curb their own greenhouse gas emissions.  Those powers remain exclusively with Congress.  Only Congress can cap greenhouse gas emissions. Only Congress can tax greenhouse gas emissions.  Only Congress can enact a national enegy efficiency building code, or compel states through withholding funds to update their building codes to promote green building and energy efficient practices. 

In a system of separated powers, significant social change requires cooperation among the branches of government. So, with the partisan bickering in Washington and the recent election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts, the chances of significant progress on climate change regulation have decreased.  Only the Green Deal coalition can save us.

Boxer Climate Bill Redraft Adds Nothing To Energy Efficient Building Code Provisions

On Friday, Senator Barbara Boxer released a 923-page climate change and energy bill.  A draft of the bill had been leaked to the media in late September, and I discussed it here

Although the overall bill has swelled from 600+ pages to 900+ pages, there is still just 1.5 pages on the National Energy Efficiency Building Code, first proposed as Section 201of the Waxman-Markey Bill.  In the Waxman-Markey Bill, the House called for: 

1. Establishing a “national energy efficiency building code” for residential and commercial buildings, sufficient to meet each of the national building code energy efficiency targets.

2. Setting energy efficiency targets for the national building code: “on the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, 30 percent reduction in energy use relative to a comparable building constructed in compliance with the baseline code…effective January 1, 2014, for residential buildings, and January 1, 2015, for commercial buildings, 50 percent reduction in energy use relative to the baseline code; and…January 1, 2017, for residential buildings, and January 1, 2018, for commercial buildings, and every 3 years thereafter, respectively, through January 1, 2029, and January 1, 2030, 5 percent additional reduction in energy use relative to the baseline code.”

3. If consensus based codes provides for greater reduction in energy use than is required under the ACESA, the overall percentage reduction in energy use provided by that successor code shall be the national building code energy efficiency target.

4. Requiring that states and local governments comply with or exceed the national energy efficiency building code, and providing for enforcement mechanisms for states which are out of compliance.

The original Boxer-Kerry draft backed off of the Waxman-Markey structure entirely, simply mandating that the Department of Energy or "other agency head or heads as may be designated by the President shall promulgate regulations establishing building code energy efficiency targets...beginnning not later than January 1, 2014... "

The exact same language is mirrored in the current version of the Senate Bill at Section 163 (starting at page 200 of the current bill).  No structure, no mandatory energy efficiency targets, no requirments that states adopt energy efficiency codes by a certain date.  

This is a fascinating development because of the vast energy savings possible through regulation of new buildings and retrofits of old buildings.  According to a study by McKinsey on energy efficiency,

by 2020, the United States could reduce annual energy consumption by 23 percent from a business-as-usual projection by deploying an array of...efficiency measures, saving 9.1 quadrillion BTUs of end use energy...

The majority of the 900 page bill is dedicated to defining and establishing a cap-and-trade program.  While a worthy goal, I think that the Boxer bill misses the opportunity to grasp low-hanging fruit in energy savings through energy efficient building requirements.

 

My Carbon Is As Bad As Your Carbon

Today, the EPA briefed Congress on its intent to

formally declare carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that threaten public health and welfare.

This declaration clears the way for EPA to regulate greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act and other regulatory mechanisms. 

According to the USGBC, in the United States alone, buildings account for 38% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  Even if these statistics are wrong by HALF, that is still 20% of carbon dioxide.  Yet many cap-and-trade and other carbon management programs do not incorporate carbon regulation of buildings because they are categorized as "indirect" and therefore more difficult to calculate and regulate.  There is also the argument that the emissions from "direct" sources like power plants are already regulated, and therefore it will be easier to regulate their emissions.

However, the health and safety of buildings is already regulated by energy codes, fire codes,  building codes, zoning codes, etc.  If greenhouse gases are a threat to human health, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings is as critical as protecting from the risk of fire. Moreover, if a cap-and-trade system is put in place, carbon credits will be very valuable.  If reductions in greenhouse gases can be generated by high performance building practices, this value should be available to those developers who choose to pursue those solutions.


Today's announcement by the EPA will lead to regulation by the executive branch, or spur Congress to act to regulate greenhouse gases.  The regulatory solution must include a regualtory mechanism for managing the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings.

My Carbon Is As Bad As Your Carbon

Today, the EPA briefed Congress on its intent to

formally declare carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that threaten public health and welfare.

This declaration clears the way for EPA to regulate greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act and other regulatory mechanisms. 

According to the USGBC, in the United States alone, buildings account for 38% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  Even if these statistics are wrong by HALF, that is still 20% of carbon dioxide.  Yet many cap-and-trade and other carbon management programs do not incorporate carbon regulation of buildings because they are categorized as "indirect" and therefore more difficult to calculate and regulate.  There is also the argument that the emissions from "direct" sources like power plants are already regulated, and therefore it will be easier to regulate their emissions.

However, the health and safety of buildings is already regulated by energy codes, fire codes,  building codes, zoning codes, etc.  If greenhouse gases are a threat to human health, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings is as critical as protecting from the risk of fire. Moreover, if a cap-and-trade system is put in place, carbon credits will be very valuable.  If reductions in greenhouse gases can be generated by high performance building practices, this value should be available to those developers who choose to pursue those solutions.


Today's announcement by the EPA will lead to regulation by the executive branch, or spur Congress to act to regulate greenhouse gases.  The regulatory solution must include a regualtory mechanism for managing the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings.

Congressional High Performance Building Caucus Formed

Guest Post by Jonathan Lane
J.D. Candidate, 2010
University of Pennsylvania Law School
 

In an indication that green building policies will be subject to considerable attention in the development of energy and climate legislation in the new Congress, the High-Performance Buildings Congressional Caucus was formed this summer among members of the House of Representatives, and in contrast to many other such caucuses there are already efforts to make the caucus a substantive group that goes far beyond being a list of the names of interested members.

The High Performance Building Congressional Caucus Coalition,  consisting of over 40 industry groups, is working with the Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), "to promote and showcase best practices in building design and focus on issues reflecting all aspects of high-performance buildings." Including the co-chairs, there are 16 members currently in the Caucus, 15 Democrats and 1 Republican, though since, as a Carnahan spokesperson told Politico, "this is a largely bipartisan issue," there will be an effort to recruit more Republican members early in the new session of Congress.

According to a new article in Politico discussing the Caucus

 some caucus members are already considering introducing green-building legislation that experts expect say could include tax incentives and implementation of a smart-grid system… Caucus members are also eyeing economic stimulus or climate bills as potential vehicles for green measures… The green buildings issue will likely be one of the easiest energy-related ideas to move through Congress next year.