Political Hardball: Part 2

Green building under legislative attack

The American Gas Association (AGA) is at it again. If you recall, about a year ago the organization pushed unsuccessfully to repeal Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  According to that provision, all new federal buildings and older structures undergoing renovations of more than $2.5 million are required to drastically slash their use of fossil fuel. The law sets rigorous but wholly realistic (given today’s technologies) targets culminating in the total elimination of fossil fuels by 2030. As I pointed out in a blog post a year ago, it represents nothing less than the federal adoption of architect Edward Mazria’s 2030 Challenge.

That groundbreaking piece of legislation is currently threatened. A new energy bill is circulating through Congress called the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013. According to durabilityanddesign.com, the proposed bill, sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), “would promote greater use of energy efficiency technology in commercial and residential buildings…”

But of course in the loopy, cynical, alternate reality of Washington, there’s a catch: the AGA is now pushing to include an amendment in the new bill, or introduce separate legislation, that would weaken or eliminate Section 433. Last week more than 350 of our leading architectural, engineering, design, consulting, and construction firms presented a letter to Congress protesting the move. It’s a veritable who’s-who of the built environment, with one conspicuous absence: the U.S. Green Buildings Council.

What gives? When asked about their glaring absence, Roger Platt, senior vice president Global Policy & Law at the USGBC, responded, “I wouldn’t read a thing into not being on that particular letter. We’re fully in support of all federal policies that have helped make the vision of the 2030 Challenge so consequential, including those in Section 433. We’re in continuing communication with Rep. Wyden’s office and many other members of the committee, and will be sending in our letter. This is a crucial debate. In our communications, we’re also looking at the short term consequences of the attacks on sustainability that this Senate debate has provoked, not the least of which is an effort to ban the use of LEED by the federal government.”

Ironically, the attack on Section 433 is actually a sign of progress. “Building sector energy consumption and projections are trending dramatically downward,” Mazria says. “Although it’s cause for celebration for the rest of us, it’s worrisome to the gas and fossil fuel industry.”

Mazria maintains that the building sector is transforming so rapidly it’s ahead of 2030 targets:

“As a result, we have no need to add more electricity generating capacity—additional power plants—to service the Building Sector today, or in the near future. In fact, if we incorporate the ‘best available demand technology’ in our building designs (roughly equivalent to meeting the 2030 Challenge targets), we can reduce the 2030 Building Sector’s energy consumption even further.

“It is fair to conclude, given what we know about our continuing reductions in building energy consumption, the American Gas Association is running scared and pushing for repeal of Section 433 to derail our progress and thereby secure a continued demand for natural gas.

“What other reason could there be for crashing our celebration party?”

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