The Energy Hawks Take Flight

June 8, 2009
The next round of energy legislation may prove more difficult

It’s spring in Washington; as we near the end of the first 100 days of the Obama Administration, the city is buzzing with activity. At the start of 2009, it quickly became obvious that energy and the environment would take center stage, notwithstanding the grim economy and credit crisis. With the Democrats’ gains in the House and the Senate, and a president whose platform spotlighted our nation’s energy and climate-change challenges, increased scrutiny on how buildings – both new construction and existing structures – use energy wasn’t surprising.

So far, legislating energy has gone according to Congress’ plan without any major snags. In February, the $787 billion stimulus package, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, was swiftly passed and signed into law. Included in this effort to push money into the economy and stimulate immediate job creation was $16.8 billion for spending on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Of this, $6.3 billion will be distributed to states and cities through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants and the State Energy Program, and could potentially be used for energy-efficiency retrofits and incentive programs. Another $7.7 billion of those funds are for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to complete work on some projects and implement energy-efficiency retrofits on federal buildings.

I’m especially pleased to see how many BOMA local associations are working with their governors, mayors, and state energy departments to offer expertise to implement effective programs that accomplish the government’s goals of putting people back to work and reducing energy consumption while accomplishing BOMA’s goals of encouraging energy audits, retrofits, and incentives to boost voluntary market-transformation efforts. I encourage you to keep your ears open to ensure that you’re in line to benefit from these types of programs.

But, the next round of energy legislation may prove more difficult. The House of Representatives has opted to tackle broad energy policy and climate change – cap and trade – in one fell swoop. And, they hope to have a bill on the House floor early this summer – a pretty tall order for such sweeping policy changes. The bill’s authors, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA), chairs of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, respectively, included several provisions directly pointed at us – so get ready for a wild ride.

The four provisions we’re focusing on are: 1) financial incentives for energy retrofits, 2) a building labeling program (statement of energy performance), 3) the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), and 4) advanced building codes language. BOMA is supportive of the incentives and EERS provisions of the bill, which is essentially a mandate on utilities to achieve energy-efficiency goals, and BOMA members from across the country voiced their support for these during the March National Issues Conference in Washington (see Members Convene at National Issues Conference for details). We’re, thus far, neutral on the labeling provision, but we’re working to ensure that, if it does pass, it’s easy to understand and accomplish, and clearly conveys the appropriate information to the appropriate audience.

What’s really keeping me up at night is the advanced building codes language, which we have unaffectionately renamed the “Federalization of the Building Codes” because it would not only ratchet up the energy-efficiency targets of ASHRAE 90.1, but would also place the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in the role of codes developer and enable the DOE to trump the voluntary consensus process if the targets weren’t met. To make it even worse, also under consideration are measures that would allow citizens to sue building owners, developers, and architects if the buildings don’t meet the targets.

In the codes arena, work on multiple sustainability codes/standards continues. On the regulatory front, BOMA joined forces with the Department of Energy to launch the Commercial Real Estate Energy Alliance (CREEA). CREEA is designed to promote the construction of high-performance buildings, focusing on identifying the “game changers” in technology and research that will get us to the next level of efficiency. It launched on April 9, 2009, and we’re excited to be a founding member. (More to come on all of this in a future column.)

See you on June 28 in Philadelphia at BOMA Intl.’s Annual Conference. In the meantime, contact your Washington advocates for information on any real estate issue – e-mail us at [email protected].

Karen Penafiel is vice president of advocacy at BOMA Intl. For more information on this and other issues, call BOMA Intl. at (202) 408-2662 or visit www.boma.org.

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