As the U.S. Senate passed its long-delayed energy bill April 21, the irony was acute. Here was the world’s greatest deliberative body voting to kill carbon-cutting requirements for the federal government – on the eve of Earth Day and the signing of the COP 21 climate treaty in Paris.
In three short lines in more than 800-pages of legislation, the Senate repealed a policy that is already helping buildings owned by Uncle Sam – the nation’s largest landlord – cut greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, the Senate voted to eliminate Section 433 from the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which requires that new and majorly renovated federal buildings meet incremental targets leading to net zero energy consumption by 2030. The House last year also voted to repeal this provision in the landmark statute, an action which President Obama at the time said he would veto.
Through design, our profession is helping guide building owners, consumers and governments – particularly Uncle Sam – to be leaders in energy conservation and reduced dependence on the use of fossil fuels. Residential and commercial buildings account for almost 40 percent of both total U.S. energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. According to government statistics, better designed buildings have already saved our country approximately $560 billion in energy costs since 2005.
So why is Congress so determined to roll back this common-sense and money-saving provision? Section 433’s opponents (primarily the fossil fuel lobby) claim that it is simply too difficult to implement. But that ignores the realities of a market where such renovated federal buildings like the Wayne Aspinall federal courthouse in Colorado and the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Ore. are meeting the 2030 targets right now. In fact, the renovated Portland building was delivered 10 months early, saving taxpayers more than $900,000 in the process.
Meanwhile, stakeholders from a broad array of industries have been working with the Energy Department to implement this rule in a way that is smart, efficient, and effective.
Requiring significant energy reduction targets in new and majorly renovated federal buildings demonstrates to the private sector that Uncle Sam can set an example for other nations to follow. The targets help spur the development of new materials, construction techniques, and technologies to make buildings more energy efficient. And they show that significant energy reductions are both practical and cost- effective.
That’s why not only architects, but more than 300 other groups oppose efforts to weaken this energy-saving policy. We hope this short- sighted repeal is stripped from any bill that emerges from a House-Senate conference. And if it isn’t, the president should veto this mis- guided legislation.
Russell A. Davidson, FAIA, is president of the American Institute of Architects.