By Steve Rizer
There are plenty of ways that the Obama administration can better promote green buildings without having to wait for Congress to pass new legislation, according to a new report that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and other advocates released earlier this month. The report suggests nearly three dozen actions Obama should take through 23 executive agencies to bolster his program for sustainable structures.
The report, “Better Buildings Through Executive Action: Leveraging Existing Authorities to Promote Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Multifamily, Residential and Commercial Buildings,” builds on a similar document, issued in 2010, that identified nearly 100 legal authority opportunities across 30 existing federal programs worth more than $72 billion to improve energy efficiency in America’s building stock.
Partnering with USGBC on the new report were The Real Estate Roundtable, HDR, Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls, Enterprise Community Partners, Natural Resources Defense Council, United Technologies Corporation, Lennar Homes, Energy Foundation, Ingersoll Rand, Siemens, National Association of State Energy Officials, The Center for American Progress, National Housing Conference and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International.
In the most recent report, the groups made the following recommendations and comments:
- Facilitate a Voluntary Residential Building Labeling Program -- A nationally recognized, consumer-friendly energy efficiency label for residential buildings could have the same impact in the market for real estate that the Energy Star label has had in the market for commercial buildings. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) could accelerate the development of such a label by building on its existing E-Scale pilot program, and the Federal Trade Commission could facilitate the adoption of such a label by clarifying its regulations on certifications and “green” product claims.
- Integrate Energy, Water, and Location Efficiency into Mortgage Underwriting Standards -- Energy, water, and transportation expenses can greatly influence the affordability of both single-family and multi-family properties. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should evaluate whether these factors should be considered by mortgage originators in determining a borrower’s ability to pay.
- Revive Federal Use of Energy Savings Performance Contracting -- Energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) help agencies upgrade their facilities to meet modern efficiency standards while paying for the improvements over time out of their energy savings. The government’s large building inventory presents potentially billions of dollars in cost-effective, energy-saving retrofit opportunities. To ensure that ESPCs and similar arrangements are fully exploited, the Executive Branch could direct the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to encourage the use of ESPCs through its oversight of agency capital investment plans, provide incentives for procurement officials to explore ESPCs as one vehicle for financing capital improvements, and designate staff within OMB or other White House offices to be responsible for ESPC initiatives.
- Promote Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Through the Economic Development Administration --There is considerable scope for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (DOC) Economic Development Administration to integrate energy efficiency and sustainability into its programmatic plans and funding activities for infrastructure improvements in economically challenged communities.
- Strengthen Energy Data Collection Programs for Large Buildings -- The systematic collection of detailed data on building energy characteristics and performance is critical to informing the development of future standards, monitoring progress, and enabling objective comparisons of buildings. Federal guidance to the utility community on how it can provide whole-building energy consumption data in multi-tenant assets can help address barriers to building benchmarking and energy performance in those structures. Likewise, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has significant authority to supplement the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey through additional requests for information from owners and occupants of large buildings.
- Establish Federal Guidelines on Economic Valuation of Green Buildings -- As discussed in Executive Order 13514, a full accounting of costs and benefits should be undertaken on building-scale efficiency improvements. Based on the successful experience of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, guidance should be established for measuring the dollar value of energy efficiency and other benefits such as reduced energy and water consumption, greenhouse-gas-emission reduction, improved indoor air quality, and reduced waste material. With such guidelines, physical performance (i.e., the percentage reduction in energy use) can be computed in dollar terms to more directly represent long-term financial and public value. These guidelines then can be integrated with recommendations to improve competitive grant programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, DOC, DOE, and others as well as supplement existing agency-level sustainability rating systems that are tracked by OMB.
“In the time since we distributed this original report in 2010, the unemployment crisis has deepened and Congress has become further paralyzed by partisan gridlock and concerns over the deficit,” said Roger Platt, senior vice president of global policy and law for USGBC. “We felt it was important to once again draw attention to the potential to create jobs and accelerate economic growth through energy efficient and sustainable buildings. This potential only takes root when matched by supportive federal policies such as the administration’s Better Buildings Initiative, which encourages investment in high-performance buildings.”
USGBC and the partner organizations worked with federal officials to identify new executive policymaking opportunities to achieve greener buildings.
Advocates believe that since the first report was released in April 2010, there has been “significant progress” in implementing several proposals, including the following:
- The administration’s Better Buildings Initiative, which contains many elements of the 2010 report, such as improving the Energy Efficiency Commercial Building Tax Deduction, using DOE loan guarantees, and using U.S. Small Business Administration financing programs to support energy efficiency retrofits at commercial buildings.
- An inter-agency effort establishing uniform energy efficiency standards across federal housing programs and requiring the use of “green capital needs assessments” to identify and encourage energy efficiency or sustainability improvements in federally assisted housing.
- Reforms that give energy-efficient and sustainable housing an edge in several competitive solicitations managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and HUD.
- A joint initiative by DOE and the Appraisal Foundation to promote fair appraisal standards and practices relating to energy efficient and sustainable buildings.
- A proposed commercial building energy performance rating program sponsored by DOE.
The White House did not immediately respond to Green Building Insider's request for a reaction to the report.
The new report, prepared by Van Ness Feldman, can be downloaded at www.usgbc.org/executiveaction.