Blue vs. Grey Over Green in Murray v. EPA; Cross-Border Rule Goes Ahead

Happy Monday!  

As I posted earlier, in Murray, et al v. EPA , plaintiff Murray Energy Corporation seeks to enjoin EPA's Clean Power Plan rule even before it has been issued as a Final Rule.  The Clean Power Plan proposes to regulate the carbon emissions of existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. 

 Last week, the states of New York, State of Connecticut, State of Delaware, State of Maine, State of New Mexico, State of Oregon, State of Rhode Island, State of Vermont, State of Washington, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, District of Columbia filed notice of their intention to participate as amicus curiae 

In June, Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska, Ohio and Wyoming also filed an amicus brief in this case.

Assuming that the northeastern states support the Clean Power Plan, it sets up a sort of "Blue v. Grey over Green" battle, with the western states thrown in as well.   

There was also an interesting decision in the D.C. Circuit last week, lifting a stay on the EPA's Cross-Border Pollution Rule.  But, additional issues remain to be resolved in the DC Circuit case, so there will likely be more action on this critical rule.    

I'm Not Dead Yet: Is coal doomed regardless of whether EPA regulates carbon emissions?

 I want to pass along three interesting articles I have read over the past day or so about coal's decline (or alleged decline) in the United States totally unrelated to EPA's recent proposed rule on carbon emissions from existing power plants. Here are the takeaways:

  1. From former Sierra Club CEO Carl Pope at EcoWatch:  Hundreds of years of mining existing coal seams has made coal harder and more expensive to extract.
  2. From Berkeley Professor Meredith Fowley at The Energy Collective: The low price of natural gas and limited opportunities for exports (at least not yet) has made it economically attractive to switch fuel sources. This article has some very nice graphs about the decline of coal as a fuel source. 
  3. From Rebecca Leber at the New Republic:  Retrospective of pro-coal ads shows that coal has been predicting its own demise for over 40 years. I especially love the 1976 Coal Ad about the OPEC energy embargo. 

Reading these articles reminds me a bit of the scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail about the bubonic plague.  Coal may be dying, but its not dead yet. 

 

Does The EPA Have A Thing Against Building Energy Codes?

What if there was a technology that had a 20 year track record of saving 4.8 quads of energy and 41 million tons of carbon, while saving consumers more than $44 billion over the past 20 years, and was anticipated to save consumers up to $230 billion on their utility bills, 53 quads of energy and 3,995 million tons of carbon from 2012-2040? 

What if the return on that technology was $400:$1--for every $1 of government program money spent, the return in cost savings was $400?

You would think that the EPA would have that technology at the top of its list of ways for states to reduce energy use and carbon emissions to comply with its new Clean Power Plan regulations. Instead, the EPA's response was "meh:"  

[Building energy codes*] might have substantial impact[], and the EPA does not want to discourage their implementation in state plans, but they might require development of appropriate quantification, monitoring, and verification protocols. The EPA and its federal partners intend to discuss the development of appropriate EM&V protocols for such measures with states in the coming years.

Federal Register, Vol. 79, No. 117, Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 34921.

I don't know why the EPA seems to have a thing against energy codes.  Perhaps it is that energy codes do not require cool new technology like carbon capture.  They do not require states to implement new programs or hire new personnel, because all 50 states already have building codes in place, either at the state or municipal level.  Or maybe it is because when you go to a cocktail party and start to talk about building energy codes, people feel compelled to refill their plate of cheez-its.       

But what I do know is that the EPA's concerns about building energy codes seem to run contrary to recent scholarship and state experience with building energy code programs.  

Two recent publications—one from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a joint study by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, the Edison Foundation and the Institute for Market Transformation—have protocols for measuring and verifying building energy code program savings.  In addition, over 10 states have included building energy code programs in their utility energy efficiency programs, many of which include M&V protocols.  

Even if the EPA is correct that there is some uncertainty and variability in M&V of building energy codes, the evidence of energy and carbon reductions for other compliance pathways that EPA supports, like carbon capture and storage, are much, much less certain.  

You have until October 16, 2014 to submit a comment on the proposed rule, letting EPA know that building energy codes should be at the top of its list of compliance paths, not the bottom.  

* Building energy codes are  minimum  standards for energy efficient design and construction for new and renovated buildings.  Like all construction codes, building energy codes are adopted as law by states and municipalities, and enforced by building code officials.          

Energy and Environmental Provisions of the 2012 Omnibus Spending Bill (Better read this sitting down)

As the last days of the year wind down, Congress scurries around to finish its unfinished business, almost always with "surprises" for the regulated community. 

The House appropriations committee issued a final version of the 2012 Omnibus spending bill last night.  It has, of course, significant implications for energy and environment spending, particularly spending related to climate change.

The omnibus bill cuts spending on climate change programs, prohibits the appointment of a Federal "Climate Change Czar" and cuts spending on climate change research.

Most stunning, of course, are changes to EPA funding.  The summary of the omnibus bill issued by the House appropriations committee states that EPA funding has been reduced by almost 19% in 2011:

The conference agreement funds EPA at $8.4 billion, which is a $233 million reduction below the FY 2011 enacted level and $524 million below the President’s request. Overall, funding for EPA has been reduced by $1.8 billion (-18.4%) in calendar year 2011.

The conference agreement cuts $14 million (-6%) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (-9.5%) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (-5%) to air regulatory programs. In addition, the bill includes:

  • A 33% reduction to the EPA Administrator’s immediate office;
  • A $101 million reduction for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which received $6 billion in “stimulus” funding;
  •  A $78 million reduction for EPA operations/administration, which includes $41 million
  • (-5%) in cuts to EPA’s regulatory programs;
  • A $14 million (-6.2%) reduction for uncoordinated climate and other air research; and
  •  An elimination of $4 million in funding that EPA has used to delay the processing of Appalachian mining permits.

These are some other provisions in the omnibus bill that impact the green building community:

  1. Funding for CBECS may be restored--Funding for the Commercial Building Energy which was defunded this year may be restored, paving the way for updating the baseline building energy data at the heart of Energy Star. Division B, Title III on page 44 provides $105,000,000 for the Energy Information Administration. 
  2. New energy efficient lighting standards won't go into effect-- The omnibus bill includes a rider which would prevent the new energy efficient lighting standards from going into effect on January 1st, and actually rolls back standards in effect since 2008 for floodlights. 
  3. Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program has $0.00 appropriated for 2012.  The loan guarantees are for eligible clean energy projects (i.e., agreeing to repay the borrower’s debt obligation in the event of a default), and by providing direct loans to eligible manufacturers of advanced technology vehicles and components. 
  4. Appointment of Administration “Czars” for climate change and urban affairs prohibited.

A full version of the final bill is available here, a summary from the appropriations committee is here.

A Long Way to the Courthouse: the Region 7 EPA Headquarter Controversy

Yesterday, the City of Kansas and the County of Wyndotte sued the General Services Administration for moving the EPA Region 7 headquarters from an older LEED building in the Kansas City central business district to a former Applebee's headquarters in Lenexa, Kansas. The complaint is available here.

This is a fascinating suit in that it highlights the paradox of a green building on an unsustainable site. Lenexa can only be described as a typical midwestern sprawling suburb, and the proposed new EPA headquarters is in an office park.  A Google earth map of Lenexa is available here and the proposed building is available here

The lawsuit alleges that the GSA violated two executive orders mandating that Federal facilities be sustainable and located in urban cores.

EO 12,072 requires:

Federal facilities and Federal use of space in urban areas shall serve to strengthen the Nation’s cities and to make them attractive places to live and work” and mandates that such Federal space “shall conserve existing urban resources and encourage the development and redevelopment of cities.

and Executive Order 13,514 which mandates, among other things, that

the head of each Federal agency to “advance regional and local integrated planning by . . . (iii) ensuring that planning for new Federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and emphasizes existing central cities. . . ."

The GSA defends its decision to move from a green building in the central business district to a suburban office park on two grounds--it is cheap and it is green: 

GSA spokeswoman Angela Brees said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but reasserted the agency's claim that the Lenexa building was the cheapest available, even when considering the cost of moving to a new office. [The building] also scored highest on technical criteria that include sustainability and design, she said. The owners of the building, which has been given a Silver rating by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, have vowed to upgrade it to meet LEED Gold standards and get a Platinum rating for operations and maintenance by the time employees arrive.

Putting aside the environmental implications, I would argue (and the Complaint alludes to it as well) that the Lenaxa decision does not hold up on a purely economic basis, let alone an environmental one.   The new site is located outside of the central business district, and has little access to transit.  This means that every time an EPA employee has to go to a  meeting, the courthouse and to other businesses in the course of their official duties, they must do so by car.  

Currently, the Federal government reimburses private vehicle travel at $.51 per mile.  Previously, the distance from the EPA headquarters to the Kansas City Federal Courthouse was .6 miles.  The distance from the Lenaxa facilitiy to the Federal courthouse is 21 miles.

According to the New York Times, the Applebee's HQ rent is more than the current rent.  On top of that, based on the above calculation, the taxpayer will be paying a $20 surcharge for every trip of an EPA Region 7 lawyer, paralegal, witness to the courthouse.  Of course, it will also mean the same $20 surcharge for any other trip of any Region 7 employee travelling to the Kansas City CBD on official business. 

Utilmately, it appears that this will not be a green decision, in either sense of the word.

 

Stormy Seas Ahead: Cuts to Budgets and Challenges To Regulatory Authority Will Mean Changes For The Green Economy

The United States is at a precipice with respect to public motivators for the green economy. Essentially, the carrot of public incentives or investment and the stick of potential mandatory regulation of carbon emissions are slated for elimination at the same time. 

Although we cannot know what this two part challenge to the green economy will do, it will certainly change its trajectory for the foreseeable future. 

First, of course, are the proposed revisions to the 2011 budget.  With respect to green building, slated for cuts are most programs that promote green building or which invest Federal dollars in green buildings directly:

  • $3 billion of EPA funding overall
  • $1.6 billion (nearly 20%) of the Federal Building Fund at the General Services Administration (GSA)
  • $786 million (over 35%) of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office at the Department of Energy (DOE)
  • $250 million in funds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOPE VI program, which leverages private sector dollars to transform existing blighted public housing into vibrant and livable communities.
  • $10 million for the Energy Star program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

With respect to renewable energy, the proposed Republican budget bill slates for reduction or elimination over $900 million in investment. Among the programs slated for cuts or elimination is the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program for clean energy start up companies, established during the George W. Bush administration.  According to Forbes, DOE officials have said that eliminating this program would do away with 20,000 jobs, along with the benefits for the environment.

In addition to the direct cuts, at least four different proposals are pending (potentially up for a vote this week) restricting or eliminating EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.  If the EPA is restricted in its ability to regulate greenhouse gases, one of the most potent motivators for investment in reducing carbon emissions through renewable energy, green buildings and other carbon reduction techniques will be eliminated.  

 The question will become not whether renewable energy and green building can compete without government subsidy, but rather whether renewable energy and green buildings can compete in the face of continuing subsidy to competing technologies like coal, oil, etc. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the proposed Republican budget will make few changes with respect to the $40 billion+ Government support of these technologies through tax incentives and other mechanisms. Fox News was unable to get a commitment from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that tax breaks for oil and gas companies would be eliminated:

WALLACE: A lot of Democrats that are already saying, even before they’ve seen your budget, that you do all of this balancing of the budget on the spending side, and unlike the President’s debt commission, you don’t do it on the revenue side. Do you eliminate tax breaks? Do you bring in new revenue by eliminating, for instance, tax breaks for oil companies?

RYAN: We don’t have a tax problem. The problem with our deficit is not because Americans are taxed too little. The problem with our deficit is because Washington spends too much money. … So we’re not going to down the path of raising taxes on people. […]

WALLACE: But for instance, you will not eliminate tax breaks for Big Oil and Gas?

RYAN: Those are the kinds of details that we’ll come out later with, that the Ways and Means Committee will work on. We’re not going to go into the little details of which tax expenditure goes and which tax expenditure stays.

 [You can watch this portion of the interview on You Tube]

The next few weeks will be historic ones with respect to America's green future.  For better, worse or otherwise, these are interesting times which will mean changes for everyone in the green sector in the United States. 

New Year's Green--Two Policy Measures That May Change The Face Of US Sustainability

Happy New Year and welcome to GBLB 2011.  When the clocked struck 12:01 on New Year's, two important green regulations went into effect that may have a long term influence on green building and renewable energy.  If successful, either of these regulations would do more to change the green industry than any legal challenge to LEED's legitimacy (see the continued coverage of the Gifford v. USGBC case here and here): 

  1. CALGREEN

As I have said before, green building practices are becoming code, and California has (as usual) taken the lead.  California is the only state to have a state-wide green building code, CALGREEN, which went into effect on January 1, 2011.  If California successfully implements this mandatory green building code without siginificant impact on building rates or building costs, look to other states and municipalities to follow.  Implementing green via building code is being made significantly easier throught the creation of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) which integrates with the ICC construction codes already in place in most jurisdictions. 

An interesting question that has been bandied about is what a green construction code will do to LEED.  California will be an interesting laboratory.  Will developers still seek LEED certification for their buildings when all new construction must be green?  How sensitive is the customer base to "green" vs. "more green?"

      2.     EPA Regulation Of GHG Under the Clean Air Act

EPA limits on greenhouse gases for power plants which also went into effect January 1 (a quick fact sheet from the EPA is available here).   When cap-and-trade or cap-and-tax died in Congress last year, the EPA continued its plan to regulate GHG via the Clean Air Act. There is significant controversy over these limitations, and legal challenges have been filed.  On Wednesday, December 29, 2010, the Fifth Circuit Court refused to stay the regulations, and on Thursday December 30, 2010, Texas filed a petition to the Court of Appeals in the Federal Circuit to stay the regulations.  If the EPA regulations on power plants remain in place, more GHG regulation of other categories will follow, creating the same massive shift in the priority of green tactics to manage GHG emissions that cap-and-trade would have had.

The reason I started this post by saying that these regulatory efforts may (not will) shift the green building and renewable energy industries is because of the massive efforts being undertaken to derail the regulatory efforts. 

According to the Center for American Progress

The 20 biggest-spending oil, mining, and electric utility companies shelled out $242 million on lobbying from January 2009 to June 2010. Trade associations that generally oppose clean energy policies spent another $290 million during this time. This is over $1,800 in lobby expenditures a day for every single senator and representative.

Opponents of GHG regulations were successful in killing cap-and-trade legislation in Congress.  In California, a referendum seeking to overturn California's cap-and-trade regulations was on the ballot in the November election, although it was defeated handily.

In the tug of war over between proponents and opponents of environmental regulations, watch these two hotspots in 2011. 

Is Climate Change A Damned Nuisance?

I have curly hair. More heat and humidity = bad hair days.  Thus, from a purely personal perspective, climate change-caused increases in temperature and intensity of storms will be, for me, a nuisance. 

Apparently, my perspective on this does not count as much as that of the Supreme Court.  Fortunately, the nine justices (well, actually, eight because Sonya Sotomayor recused herself) will be deciding whether climate change actually is a nuisance.  Today the high court announced that it will hear American Electric Power v. Connecticut. 

In the original suit, a coalition of eight states, local governments and non-profit land trusts sued major power producers alleging that the power producers had created a common-law nuisance by adding 650 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. 

The main issue is one of my perennial favorites in the green regulation arena--federalism.  The district court determined that the case could not go forward because the suit raised political questions which were not justiciable by the courts.  The Second Circuit reversed, arguing that, while complex, the issues boiled down to basic environmental torts which had been handled by the courts in the past. The Second Circuit decision is available here.

Many Republicans have been trying to restrict the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to the Clean Air Act, and Harry Reid has already announced that comprehensive energy legislation, including cap-and-trade is off the table indefinitely.

Thus, If the Supreme Court rules that regulating greenhouse gas emissions is a political question, that question has already been answered.  But if the Court decides that carbon emission is a nuisance, and capping of carbon emissions is an available remedy, the politicians will be left with little choice other than to create a compromise on how to cap carbon emissions comprehensively.  If they do not, it leaves open the opportunity for copy-cat litigation in every state and municipality across the country, with potentially differing mechanisms for capping greenhouse gas emissions.

The showdown is likely to happen in the spring, and be on the lookout for an 4-4 split, since Justice Sotomayor recused herself.   

Green Is Good--Stimulus Shows More Green Funding Means More Jobs Per Public Dollar

I have been tracking the green stimulus spending since June 2009. In November 2009, actual dollars spent on green projects was $1.5 billion.  Now, in November 2010, dollars actually paid to date on green projects is approximately $11 billion.  It amounts to approximately 7% of contract spending from the Stimulus bill (which does not include tax benefits), and 2.6% of the total stimulus money paid to date. 

By agency, the spending on green breaks out as follows:

  Allocated Paid Out Unit % Paid
         
DOE 33.29 9.4 Billion 28.24%
Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy 16.50 4 Billion 26.06%
EPA (9/30) 7.20 4 Billion 62.22%
GSA 6.10 1.42 Billion 23.28%
Green Buildings 5.50 1 Billion 18.18%
DOT 40.40 22.3 Billion 55.20%
High Speed Rail 3.00 1 Billion 33.33%
Total Agency 86.99 38 Billion 43.22%
Total Green 32.20 11 Billion 33.48%
Total Contract Spending 275.00 156.7 Billion 56.98%
Total Stimulus 787.00 403.4 Billion 51.26%
% Green of Contract Spending 11.71% 6.88%    
% Green of Total Stimulus 4.09% 2.67%    

[I used the same methodology as described in detail here. If you are a data geek like me, you can do your own number crunching at Recovery.gov and the agency recovery sites who do weekly reporting in Excel on the allocation and spending of the Stimulus money.  There is a wealth of information available, and I welcome any input or different statistical or mathematical analyses from the Green Building Law Community.] 

At the initiation of the Stimulus, Obama touted the green components of the stimulus bill.  He has also been very positive on the prospect of green jobs. Opponents of the stimulus bill, and waning support of green initiatives and green jobs in general, has been on the rise.

So the question becomes: what is the value of the 3% of the Stimulus that went to green iniatives, and was the return on investment higher or lower than the other initiatives that were funded by the stimulus? The answer to the ROI question is "yes"-- Agencies tasked with green funding (DOE, EPA, GSA) hold 3 of the top 10 most efficient job creating agencies that were allocated stimulus funding:

 

  Stimulus Funds Paid Jobs Created Dollars Per Job
Department of Justice $2,013,343,173 16330.59 $123,286.62
National Science Foundation $817,277,981 5503.36 $148,505.27
Department of the Interior $1,545,986,174 10047.13 $153,873.41
Department of Education $66,652,472,918 341668.74 $195,079.22
Department of Energy $9,691,290,357 42262.17 $229,313.60
General Services Administration $1,493,185,840 5773.82 $258,613.16
Department of Housing and Urban Development $7,270,460,291 27640.01 $263,041.16
Department of Homeland Security $598,741,846 2137.91 $280,059.43
Environmental Protection Agency $4,608,982,170 16233.68 $283,914.81

  By contrast, the two departments which spent the most money, the Department of the Treasury (tax cuts) and the Social Security Administration only created 188 direct jobs.

Department of the Treasury $8,575,280,379 144.27 $59,439,109.86
Social Security Administration $13,727,406,290
44.75
$306,757,682.46

It will be argued that the tax cuts, etc. indirectly created jobs by pumping more money into the economy.  But there is a direct way to measure the impact of a single green dollar.  To address this, I looked at the statistics for the GSA.  Unlike other agencies which allocate money through states to programs or disperse it to individual taxpayers, the GSA contracts directly with builders and other direct contract fund recipients to build or renovate federal buildings.

As of September 30, 2010, the GSA had saved or created 5773.82 jobs (how you have .82 of a job I can't say). The stat is here. The GSA was 16th in the agencies recieving funding, and the12th net job creating agency.  But on a job per dollar basis, the GSA the 6th most efficient job creating agency at $258,613.16 per job created.   

Do not fall into this statistical trap "$258k per job? We could have created five $50k jobs for that money!"  Remember, this dollars per job includes materials and costs of the jobs involved (bricks, mortar, etc.), which also have downstream job creating effects (brick makers, concrete haulers, etc.).

Tomorrow, I will post an interview I had at Greenbuild with Kevin Kampschroer, the Director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings at GSA in which he gave insight not only into the GSA's experience with the Stimulus spending, but also on the long term impacts the Stimulus spending had on the operation of the GSA itself. 

Interview: Karen Bandheuer on EPA's Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments

A few weeks ago, the EPA released its Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments. The Toolkit:

is designed to assist local governments in identifying and removing permitting barriers to sustainable design and green building practices. It provides a resource for communities interested in conducting their own internal evaluation of how local codes/ordinances either facilitate or impede a sustainable built environment, including the design, construction, renovation, and operation and maintenance of a building and its immediate site.
 

The toolkit can be downloaded here.

The Toolkit was developed by EPA Region 4, and we are very excited to have Karen Bandhauer, an Environmental Scientist at EPA Region 4 for an interview about the Toolkit.
 

GBLB:  Why did you develop the Toolkit?

KB: The Toolkit was the result of a relationship between the EPA and Roswell, GA. The city approached EPA wanting to develop green, protect natural resources and provide resources for its residents. The Roswell representatives told us that there had been some innovative projects that came into their permitting pipeline, and had run into permitting problems because of green features. They realized they were creating barriers to projects that they wanted to have in their community. The asked us whether we could help them create some resources to help communities identify the barriers in their codes to developing green. Some funding became available through the internal EPA innovation work group, about $50,000 in seed money for innovative projects. This project was put forward as an innovation project in 2008 by Region 4. That got it started. The project ended up being a partnership with Smart Growth and Green Building at [EPA]  headquarters.

GBLB: What does the Toolkit contain?

KB:  The Toolkit has three parts:  an assessment guide that allows users to tak a look at their codes and ordinances under the categories of the LEED process [sustainable sites , water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor air quality, materials & resources]. The assessment tool identifies objective and rationale for each category, and then questions for communities to identify gaps in the current regulatory system, then a list of potential tools and techniques [for addressing those gaps].

There is also an assessment tool—green, yellow and red—to determine how well the community is promoting each practice. Green is where the tactic is either mandatory or incentivized, yellow is where the practice is typically allowed, and red is where the practice is hampered or prohibited [by the current regulations].

There is aslo a resource guide attached to each section which has tools, information and case studies. The resource guide has a compendium of policy tools, best practices and other materials. In some cases it might be an example of a community that has put in a model ordinance, it might be an example of a best management practice guide or a green roof technical specifications. It allows the user to get a good sensse of the existing information in the field without having to spend a lot of time searching around for it.

The last section is a guide for developing an action plan. We had not originally envisioned this section for the project, but the City of Roswell gave us feedback that they wanted advice on next steps. This is a step by step guide for changing the regulatory environment. It helps communities identify things they need to look for and address if they want to implement the changes to their regulations.

GBLB: What are some of the barriers that play out in communities?

KB: A lot are the ones you hear about, and some are community specific. One of the things that we heard about was barriers in the code to installing waterless urinals, reuse of greywater. Others were “unintended consequences”—some communities prohibit groundwater wells which prohibit geothermal. Or specific ordinances which require tree planting, but if there is a drought, there might be issues better addressed by native planting. Or street widths, which [were put in place for fire safety] but might matter in terms of building sustainable communities.

Other barriers are institutional or process oriented—specific to historical legacies like union involvement. We wanted to walk [communities] through from their environmental objective to how they could implement codes and ordinances to achieve those objectives. We tried to flip it—here’s the outcome you are trying to achieve, here are things that you can do through your permitting process to try and achieve them.

In no way is EPA trying to tell localities how to do their permitting process, but to give them resources to help them look at their codes and ordinances, and save some time and money in the process.

GBLB: Who is the intended audience?

KB:  Local government officials, and it could also be useful for developers and other private entities who are looking to develop green projects. We hope it will provide a resource for communities to bring their codes and ordinances in line with sustainable policy efforts.

GBLB: What is the status of the Roswell project?

We have completed the pilot project, and they have provided excellent feedback.
In addition, we held a Lean Kaizan event in Roswell [to identify potential efficiencies] in their land disturbance permitting process. If they wanted to incentivize a specific thing, communities can identify process improvements, allowing them to provide incentives without taxing additional resources. Roswell is continuing to work on that. We are going to work with them over time to promote the project as well as improve it.

GBLB: Have they made any changes to their code yet?

KB: Not yet. Now that the Toolkit is done and the Lean project is done, we will see where they want to take it.

Two Great New Resources For Green Building Regulation

Yesterday, the EPA released its Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments.  The Toolkit

The Toolkit is designed to assist local governments in identifying and removing permitting barriers to sustainable design and green building practices. It provides a resource for communities interested in conducting their own internal evaluation of how local codes/ordinances either facilitate or impede a sustainable built environment, including the design, construction, renovation, and operation and maintenance of a building and its immediate site.
 

The toolkit can be downloaded here.

The Toolkit was developed by EPA Region 4, and we are very excited to have Karen Bandhauer, an Environmental Scientist at EPA Region 4 for an interview about the Toolkit on August 4.

Today, the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School issued for comment a draft model municipal green building ordinance.  The Model Ordinance is available for download here.  According to the Center for Climate Change Law:

Unlike other model ordinances that detail technical specifications, this ordinance presents a framework for the implementation of existing technical standards and a streamlined procedure for their compliance and enforcement. The model ordinance accommodates the rapidly developing field of substantive green building standards by allowing for the adoption of new standards within the ordinance’s framework.
 

Notably the Model Ordinance attempts to deal with the issues related to preemption, non-delegation, and antitrust, and a separate analysis document is available on the site as well.

I look forward to working through these documents and commenting on them further, and looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these resources. 

The Emperor And His Energy Saving, 100% Recycled Clothes

The AP reported that 15 phony items were admitted to the EPA's Energy Star program because manufacturers' claims of energy efficiency are not verified:

But the General Accountability Office, Congress` investigative arm, said Energy Star doesn`t verify claims made by manufacturers -- which might explain the gasoline-powered alarm clock, not to mention a product billed as an air room cleaner that was actually a space heater with a feather duster and fly strips attached, and a computer monitor that won approval within 30 minutes of submission.

 

A gasoline powered alarm clock? Seriously? 

Last week I posted about the United Nations suspending its third carbon credit auditing company in 15 months.  These situations undermine all efforts towards a more sustainable future. Take, for example, the damage done by the climate change email debacle.  To be credible, solid, verifiable evidence must be the foundation of efforts designed to change the mind of skeptics and convert naysayers.  Otherwise, we will be measuring climate change using a gasoline powered thermometer...hey...now there's an idea...

EPA Declares Los Angeles Green and Other Green Building Ironies

Last week, the world was a-twitter about the New York Times Freakonomics blog concluding that green buildings in an unsustainable infrastructure are not really green.  Imagine my amusement when the EPA releases a list of the cities with the most Energy Star buildings, with Los Angeles at the top, declaring:

These cities see the importance of taking action on climate change," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “Communities from Los Angeles to Louisville are reducing greenhouse gases and cutting energy bills with buildings that have earned EPA's Energy Star."

Coincidentally, Los Angeles is also among the top 10 cities with the longest commutes. It would be higher than 9th due to the traffic, but the suburban-style office parks and lack of a compact central downtown allow for shorter commute times. According to Forbes:

But what serves L.A. well is that a surprisingly high percentage of drivers get to their destinations in under 20 minutes (34%), which is only the 13th worst rate in the country. The reason? All those office parks and strip malls dotting the basin make it easy for people to commute between suburbs as opposed to a central downtown location, and that makes commutes shorter in mileage terms.

Green buildings are just one component of what cities need to do to combat climate change.  A comprehensive approach which incorporates regional planning, transit, infrastructure, zoning, and the buildings themselves is what will move us truly forward in the fight against climate change, and the EPA should be stressing the need for cities to move in this direction.  

What would you do to make your home more energy efficient for $57,000?

A study out of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports:

As of 31 December 2009, according to data available to the Department of Energy, about 9,100 homes had been weatherized out of a planned 593,000

The pricetag for weatherizing 9,100 homes? Over $57,000 per home. 

According to the Home Energy Saver website, sponsored in part by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, the average cost of the top 10 home energy upgrades is just $3,960, a difference of over $46,000 per home. 

Part of me doesn't care. According to Keynesian thinking, just spending stimulus money and fast, it doesn't matter how, is key to stoking the economy.  But there is part of me which envisions the thousands of additional homes which could have been weatherized had the government been more efficient in its spending. 

How Green Is Your Stimulus--Year End Check In On Green Spending Under The ARRA

In July, I wrote an analysis of the “green” spending in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act—ARRA, also known as the “stimulus bill.” I concluded that as of July the spending on green programs accounted for only .28% of the total allocation for those programs in the ARRA-- $33.2 million had been paid out for green stimulus programs, and an additional $307 million in public transit dollars.

So…where are we four months later? More money has been paid out--about $1.5 billion--but it pales in comparison to the $83.8 billion  paid out in tax benefits as of 11/06/09, and spending on non-green projects.

Here are the stats in detail:

Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy--Department of Energy

As of 7/17/09 the Department of Energy had paid out $264,457,144. $16,796,000 had been awarded for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, of which $3,189,150 had actually been awarded. BOTTOM LINE IN JULY: $3 million

As of 11/06/09, the Department of Energy had paid out $1,346,197,498. $16,796,000 had been awarded for energy efficiency and renewable energy, of which $10,651,341,856 had actually been awarded, and $347,779,891 paid out. BOTTOM LINE IN NOVEMBER: $347.8 million.

Increase from July: $344.8 million.

High Performance Green Buildings--General Services Administration

As of 7/17/09 overall the GSA has paid out $12,743,040. of available $656,418,268 of which $6,807,468 has been paid out for federal buildings, which includes high performance building projects. According to the GSA, $4,500,000,000 was appropriated by Congress, $318,750,279 obligated to date (contracts awarded) and $230,771 outlayed to date (work completed & paid).
 

As of 10/06/09 overall the GSA has paid out $333,444,141, of which $67,324,333 been paid out for federal buildings, which includes high performance building projects.

Public Transit--Department of Transportation

As of 7/17/09 the DOT has paid out $773,662,175 of a total available $22,188,399,591. For rail and other transit funding, including Amtrak, obligations of $3,921,784,326.72, outlay of $306,918,718.00 (this includes state block grants).  BOTTOM LINE IN JULY: $307 million in public transit funding outlaid as of 7/17/09.

As of 10/30/09 the DOT has paid out $5,551,384,466 out of a total available $30,514,836,708. For rail and other transit funding, including Amtrak, obligations of $7,539,142,781.45, outlay of $824,343,952.21 (this includes state block grants).  BOTTOM LINE IN NOVEMBER: $824 million in public transit funding outlaid as of 10/30/09.

Increase from July: $517 million.


Everything the EPA Is Doing--Environmental Protection Agency

As of 7/17/09, EPA has paid out $30,515,805 of the $5,713,481,497 it was allocated. Assuming that all that the EPA does is in some way green related, and this is a big assumption on my part, as much of the EPA funds have been dedicates to water resources and cleanup of hazardous sites, that adds another $30 million. BOTTOM LINE IN JULY:  $30 Million


As of 11/06/09, EPA has paid out $365,636,685. Assuming that all that the EPA does is in some way green related, and this is a big assumption on my part, as much of the EPA funds have been dedicates to water resources and cleanup of hazardous sites, that adds another $366 million. BOTTOM LINE IN NOVEMBER:  $366 Million

Increase from July: $336 million.

So?

The overall spending—i.e. money that has been paid out for green projects—in the first 10 months of 2009 amounts to over $1.5 billion. This is not nothing, and a vast improvement from the summer. On the other hand, $83.8 billion has been paid out in tax benefits as of 11/06/09, and allocation on highway infrastructure by the Department of Transportation alone was $20.2 billion of which $3.7 billion has been paid out. 
 

**A word about methodology--all of the above statistics were gleaned from Recovery.gov , the Recovery websites of the individual agencies, and my personal agency contacts.  For the DOT recovery site, go here.  For the GSA recovery site, go here.  For the DOE recovery site, go here. For the EPA recovery  site, go here.  There is a wealth of information available, and I welcome any input or different statistical or mathematical analyses from the Green Building Law Community.**

The Dangers Of Energy Myopia

My new friend Timothy Hughes over at Virginia Land Use & Construction Law Blog had a nice piece highlighting the flaws in the New York Times analysis of the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and US Courthouse (Youngstown, OH) which it used as a primary example of LEED buildings failing to live up to their green claims.  Most interesting in his expose was the fact that the Jones Federal Building did not purport to have energy efficiency as its primary goal:

 A review of the GSA study on its website reveals a few interesting facts that the Times left out of the article:

The GSA study was of 14 first wave green GSA buildings ; 8 were LEED certified, 2 were LEED registered, one used Green Building Challenge, and three were designed with an emphasis on energy efficiency
The Federal Building project did not seek any credits for energy efficiency under EA Credit 1. Similarly, the project did not seek points for additional commissioning, measurement and verification, or green power
While the Federal Building project did not receive the 75 score required to qualify for Energy Star, it did in fact reach a 58 despite the fact the building did not even try for the energy efficiency credits. Every other GSA project contained in the study qualified for Energy Star
 

I perceive this as an example of Energy Myopia, which we have seen in recent green building regulation, particularly the Waxman-Markey Bill.  Section 201 of the Waxman-Markey bill calls for an energy efficient building code, as described in greater detail here. It does not, by definition, address water efficiency, site selection, indoor air quality, or materials usage, the other components which most green building rating systems, particularly LEED, encompass.

Why is this? There are a few factors at play.

First, energy efficiency is important.  With carbon emissions causing global warming, and coal fired power plants producing lots of carbon emissions, reducing energy use is critical.  However, with global warming, many are arguing that water efficiency is at least as paramount.  Moreover, saving water through reduced use literally makes more water available for other uses--it is a direct resource saving, in a way that the impact of building energy savings is not. 

The second reason that energy has been the focus is the same reason people rob banks--because that's where the money is.  As I wrote earlier here, of the entire ARRA allocation of $60 billion for "green" programs, the EPA was allocated exactly $0 for green building, and a measley $7 billion over all.  By contrast, the DOE was allocated $32.7 billion, with $5 billion for weatherization alone.

Third, energy savings is comparatively easy to measure. How do you measure the environmental savings of selecting an urban infill site instead of a suburban greenfield? In vehicle miles saved? Runoff averted? Stream quality? It is easier for proponents of green buildings and critics alike to use energy savings as a proxy for environmental friendliness. 

It is critical for green building regulations to encompass the mulit-faceted environmental impacts of the built environment, and to look holistically at the environmental impacts of so-called "green buildings." 

Later this week...Why Holistic Green Building Regulation Is Hard And What To Do About It.

Show Me The Money--The Green Stimulus By The Numbers

Yesterday I was asked whether enough support was being given to develop the green building industry in the United States.  It led me to wonder where the so-called "green" stimulus package had wound up six months later.  I had criticized the stimulus bill for being less green in reality than in rhetoric here.  The answer to where we are now that the bill is being implemented? A light shade of chartreuse, not the deep forest I would have preferred.  By my calculations, a total of $33.2 million has been paid out for green stimulus programs, and an additional $307 million in public transit dollars, of the allocated $119 BILLION.  That is .28% of the total allocation by my calculations. 

Here are the stats in detail:

 The allocations in the Stimulus Bill for categories which include green:

  • Infrastructure funding has been allocated $111 billion (this includes transit)
  • Energy has been allocated $8 billion. 

[Please compare this to the $288 billion for tax relief].

Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy--Department of Energy

As of 7/17/09 the Department of Energy has paid out $264,457,144.  $16,796,000 has been awared for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, of which  $3,189,150 has actually been awarded.  BOTTOM LINE: $3 million

High Performance Green Buildings--General Services Administration

As of 7/17/09 overall the GSA has paid out $12,743,040. of available $656,418,268 of which $6,807,468 has been paid out for federal buildings, which includes high performance building projects.

UPDATE: The GSA provided me with specific information on the High Performance Building Program.  According to the GSA, $4,500,000,000 was appropriated by Congress, $318,750,279 obligated to date (contracts awarded) and $230,771 outlayed to date (work completed & paid)

BOTTOM LINE: $230,771

Public Transit--Department of Transportation

As of 7/17/09 the DOT has paid out $773,662,175 of a total available $22,188,399,591. For rail and other transit funding, including Amtrak, obligations of $3,921,784,326.72, outlay of $306,918,718.00 (this includes state block grants).
BOTTOM LINE: $307 million in public transit funding outlaid as of 7/17/09.  

 Everything the EPA Is Doing--Environmental Protection Agency

As of 7/17/09, EPA has paid out $30,515,805 of the $5,713,481,497 it was allocated.  Assuming that all that the EPA does is in some way green related, and this is a big assumption on my part, as much of the EPA funds have been dedicates to water resources and cleanup of hazardous sites, that adds another Bottom Line $30 million. 

So what do all these numbers mean? 

I think, as I did when the ultimate stimulus bill was passed that the overall amount is not enough.  What we know now is that the money is being spent slower than anticipated.  If the concept was to stimulate the economy in 2009, $33.2m probably is insufficient.  The entire practice of architecture is dying on the vine, without help there will be few innovators left to help green the next building wave.  Something needs to be done to facilitate getting the green stimulus dollars to those projects that need them--I have heard of LEED projects which are dying because they cannot access private funds--sooner rather than later.

ICC To Create Commercial Green Building Code

The International Code Council, the non-profit organization which develops and maintains the International Building Code, announced on Earth Day that they were creating a new "green" commercial building code which would be in line with the ICC's other building code products. 

ICC codes are "consensus" based codes, so the process for developing the code involves:

  • Convening a select drafting committee
  • Inviting public comment on the initial draft
  • Placing the final draft into the ICC code development process

This code may address the common criticism of LEED and other green building standards that they are not designed to be incorporated into building codes, and that they are not specific enough to be used as legal platforms. 

ICC is not the first organization to attempt to create a building-code friendly standard for green.  ASHRAE convened a committee to develop Standard 189.1 several years ago 

Proposed Standard 189, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, will provide minimum requirements for the design of sustainable buildings to balance environmental responsibility, resource efficiency, occupant comfort and well-being, and community sensitivity. Using USGBC’s LEED Green Building Rating System, which addresses the top 25% of building practice, as a key resource, Standard 189P will provide a baseline that will drive green building into mainstream building practices.

Standard 189P will be an ANSI-accredited standard that can be incorporated into building code. It is intended that the standard will eventually become a prerequisite under LEED.
 

After releasing a draft standard in 2007, the ASHRAE dissolved the original committee in late 2008, and reconstituted it at the beginning of 2009.  There was a great deal of scuttle that the committee was dissolved because major builders, manufacturers and developers did not have enough of a say in the development of the standard. 

It will be interesting to see if ICC will be more successful that ASHRAE in developing a commercial green building code, and whether that code will, in fact, be green.  ICC developed a residential green standard with the National Association of Home Builders, and the criticism of the NAHB Green standard is that the requirements are not as stringent as LEED for Homes.  We shall see if the ICC green commercial standard will incorporate the same green requirements as LEED-NC. 

Finally, even creating an ICC green code will not solve the issue expressed by code officials that there is a lack of expertise and training in green construction.  In fact, if the ICC code is developed and adopted in municipalities and states across the country, a much greater investment will be required in training, education and expertise to ensure that the codes are implemented and enforced properly.

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.

How the Stimulus Bill Shortchanged The EPA, And What It Means For Green Building

I have written before about the conflict between local and federal regulation of green building.  But the issue of jurisdiction is not restricted to intergovernmental conflict.  At the federal level,  resources for green building are being largely handled by the Department of Energy, and not by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The DOE runs the Energy Star program, for example.  In its page on "buildings" the DOE states:

The Department of Energy, through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Building Technologies Program works closely with the building industry and manufacturers to conduct research and development on technologies and practices for energy efficiency. The Department also promotes energy and money-saving opportunities to builders and consumers and works with state and local regulatory groups to improve building codes and appliance standards.

As you might expect, the DOE information is all about energy efficiency.  By contrast, the EPA has an informative page about green buildings, including information on water efficiency, sustainable communities, indoor air quality, waste reduction, toxics reduction and other considerations.  In short, the EPA takes into consideration the multi-faceted ways in which buildings impact the environment. 

Why should you care? On the EPA page regarding funding for green building projects it states:

EPA does not currently provide funding to support green building projects.

In the stimulus bill, which, you recall had $60 billion for "green" programs, the EPA was allocated exactly $0 for green building, and a measley $7 billion over all.  Don't believe me? Look at the EPA's own assessment of the stimulus money.  By contrast, the DOE was allocated $32.7 billion, with $5 billion for weatherization alone. 

The government agency charged with protecting the environment was essentially shut out of the "green" stimulus bill, and as a result, I wonder whether the overall environmental impact of buildings will be promoted effectively through research, incentives and other mechanisms.

Barriers to Entry--Analyzing Barriers to Greening Building Codes

Last week was a bit quiet here at Green Building Law Blog as I attended a conference in Atlanta hosted by the EPA on greening building codes.  The invitees to the conference were code officials, EPA personnel, developers, architects, non-governmental organization reps, a couple of attorneys and assorted other municipal and state officials.  It was a great group and a well facilitated conference.

The first day of the conference was devoted to identifying barriers to greening the building codes.  The barriers fell into 7 categories:

1. Procedural--lack of communication among stakeholders, lack of integration among agencies and codes (plumbing codes, etc.), no clear process for obtaining variances to statewide building codes, overextended staff resources, lack of enforcement of current codes

2. Capacity--Lack of experts in green building amongst code staff

3. Education/Perception--Green seen as elitist, expensive, difficult; Lack of certification and training amongst code officials, lack of examples

4. Legal--Standards of proof higher for green buildings than standard buildings for approvals, Federal and state preemption, conflicts with other laws (fire code, historical preservation), LEED not designed to be integrated into codes, risk of liability

5. Technical/Research--Lack of performance data on green systems and technologies, lack of definitions of green terminology, lack of clearinghouse of information on best practices, inaccessibility of financial data and cost/benefit analyses

6. Political--Partisanship, status quo interests, unions, property rights advocates, lack of political champion for greening codes

7. Financial--budget shortfalls (especially because of recession), jurisdiction for funding (state vs. local allocation) for code changes

Some of these barriers are more perception than reality, but perception is reality when it comes to making political change.  In addition, most are very real---code changes require policial will and resources, and good communication among stakeholders both within the government and with the regulated community.