New York Senator Introduces Plan to Require Buildings Across the Nation to Dramatically Increase Energy Efficiency

June 14, 2007

Increasing energy efficiency in buildings is one of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases and energy consumption; buildings account for 40 percent of all energy used in the United States. On June 4, 2007, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer, standing with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, announced his federal plan to increase building efficiency by 30 percent across the nation as Mayor Bloomberg has proposed for New York City. This announcement marks the start of a coordinated effort to require states and municipalities to update their residential and commercial building codes. Schumer said today that he would offer these new emissions standards as an amendment to the Senate energy bill that will be on the floor next week.

"Not only is my plan the right thing to do, it is a win-win for everyone - energy-efficient buildings save consumers money and protect our environment," Schumer says. "They make sense, and it's high time that the federal government moves forward. My amendment will take the rest of the country in the same direction that cities like New York and states like California are heading. The best way to reduce greenhouse gases is conservation even though alternative fuels get most of the attention. As one environmentalist said, alternative fuels are the sizzle, but conservation is the steak."

"One of the key goals of PlaNYC is reducing New York City's greenhouse gases. By setting a national standard for building energy codes, Senator Schumer's amendment to the Senate's proposed energy-efficiency bill will help us begin to meet those goals today," says Mayor Bloomberg. "Facing the challenges of climate change and energy consumption is integral to our future, and we simply can no longer just sit back and hope that these problems will go away. Every level of our government must do its part and take steps now that will allow us to begin making progress toward effective change for the future."

One month ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York City Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster introduced a landmark modernization of the New York City Building Code, the first since 1968, fulfilling a 2001 promise to update the City's arcane and antiquated existing code. The new proposal overhauls all aspects of the City's construction codes, including the Building Code, setting new standards and rules in order to emphasize safety, efficiency, and sustainability. The proposal, to be called the NYC Construction Codes, draws on suggestions and input from hundreds of stakeholders the Bloomberg Administration brought together for this effort, simplifies construction standards and fosters long-term, environmentally friendly growth. This new model building code has begun the process of "greening the code" by requiring cool roofs, rewarding green building practices, and streamlining the approval process for new technologies.

Schumer's plan addresses a critical energy issue at a time of rising gas prices and the looming threat of climate change. Buildings across the United States account for about 40 percent of all energy used in the United States, and more than two-thirds of electricity generated in the United States, goes to heat, cool, and power buildings. Unfortunately, most commercial buildings are highly energy inefficient, forcing consumers and business to waste money on high energy costs. At the same time, these outdated buildings pump out tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a major cause of global warming.

"When, in 1999, we finished the first green high-rise office tower, 4 Times Square, we thought that the era of sustainable construction had begun. We were wrong. Today, thanks to the vision and courage of Senator Schumer and Mayor Bloomberg, green buildings are quickly becoming the norm. This legislation and PlaNYC is the environmental leadership that our country and our planet so desperately needs," says Douglas Durst, co-president of the The Durst Organization.

"The Central Labor Council heartily endorses Senator Schumer's federal plan to significantly improve building efficiency and create a more sustainable and healthy work environment and new opportunities for our workforce. Investments in retrofitting existing government buildings and supporting environmentally responsible new construction will generate tens of thousands of new construction, manufacturing, design, and maintenance jobs. High-performance (green) buildings will also create new vocational opportunities for our workforce in an ecologically responsible building trade, such as installing solar panels and weatherizing buildings," says Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council.

Ashok Gupta of the Natural Resources Defense Council added, "With today's announcement, Senator Schumer and Mayor Bloomberg are taking the lead in shaping how every new building will be constructed. The proposed strengthening of building energy codes will mean that more energy-efficient windows, lighting, and heating and cooling systems will be installed and this will result in lower energy bills and reduced global-warming pollution."

In commercial buildings, like supermarkets, the percentage of energy consumed for just refrigeration often approaches 50 percent of total energy consumed by the building. These high energy demands put onerous burdens on residential and commercial building owners, hitting their wallets even harder as the prices of oil continues to rise.

Furthermore, inefficient buildings strain over-utilized electricity grids, as more than half of the total energy is used in buildings for heating, cooling, ventilation, refrigeration, and water heating is generated by electricity. Air-conditioning by itself is the single leading cause of peak demand for electricity. Increasing the efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, will immediately lower demand for energy and alleviate peak capacity.

Current building codes are set on a state-by-state basis, and most states have failed to implement modernized building codes that would require builders and developers to use cost-saving, energy-efficient designs. Most current building codes are outdated and were written long before global warming and energy independence became important issues to America. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has failed to produce a model code that takes strong steps to reduce the energy demands of commercial and residential buildings. Schumer's plan would force DOE to update their system so that new building codes take into account high energy usage rates of commercial buildings and the detrimental effect on consumers and the environment.

Schumer and Bloomberg said today that new buildings represent a unique opportunity for energy savings. Efficient buildings reduce demand on the power grid and stress on natural gas supplies, improve local air quality, do not contribute to global warming, and save consumers money. By increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, consumers and businesses will spend less on heating, cooling, and powering their buildings. At the same time, reducing the energy demand of buildings will allow them to emit less carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Reducing greenhouse gases is an essential step in fighting global warming.

While Schumer believes that the Senate's energy bill is a solid first step in addressing America's most challenging energy needs by increasing the use of renewable fuels and reducing the government's operating expenses by increasing the energy efficiency of government buildings, the Senator's amendment will solidify these improvements by strengthening codes for commercial and residential buildings as well, further reducing America's energy dependency while saving consumers billions in energy-related expenditures.

Schumer's amendment will spur major improvements in building energy codes by setting national targets and requiring states to meet them. Specifically, it will:

  • Set a target for both national model residential and commercial building energy codes of 30-percent energy-efficiency improvement by 2012 and 50-percent improvement by 2022, with interim and subsequent targets as well, from proposed model codes created by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), with input from the Department of Energy (DOE).
  • Require states to adopt codes within 2 years that save at least as much energy as the national models, similar to commercial code requirement today.
  • Require states within an additional 3 years to achieve 90-percent compliance with the codes verified by inspections of a sample of buildings.
  • Provide DOE assistance to the states and to the national organizations to implement the codes, and retain a 2005 EPA act provision for grants to states for implementing plans to achieve high rates of compliance with the codes.
  • Provide an additional $125 million for states to implement the national model codes.
  • Provide states with one year waivers if they are unable to implement the national codes and/or be within 90-percent compliance.
  • Provide carve-outs for localities/municipalities that are in compliance, but which are within states that are not.

The impact on the economy and the environment from Schumer's amendment would be remarkable. If states hit both efficiency targets, cumulative cost-savings for home and business owners would be $435 billion (nominal 2003 dollars). The amendment would lead to the equivalent reduction of roughly 890 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. These greenhouse-gas emissions reductions are equivalent to taking 32 million cars off the road for 20 years.

According to the American Council of Energy Efficient Economies, in 2030 alone, with these new standards in place, America could eliminate 5 percent of its total energy use, saving consumers $50 billion a year. Greenhouse-gas emissions would be cut to a level equivalent to taking as many as 70 million cars off the road that year alone.

Schumer's plan will ease the burden of implementing new building codes on cities like New York that are already working hard to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases, by providing federal funding to help states and municipalities implement new model codes. And, Schumer's plan will require other cities and states to take the steps that New York City is already taking.

Schumer's amendment will be offered on the Senate leadership bill, which will be on the Senate floor starting next week.

On Earth Day, Mayor Bloomberg outlined PlaNYC, a series of 127 proposals aimed at helping New York meet the challenges of adding nearly 1 million people to the City's population between now and 2030, while at the same time reducing the City's greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent. It aggressively targets energy efficiency in the building sector since almost 80 percent of the city's CO2 emissions come from energy use in buildings. In addition reducing energy consumption will improve air quality and help bring energy prices down. PlaNYC earmarks the next 3-year revision of the building code to go much further, with certain priority items, such as reducing CO2 emissions from concrete production, increasing the recycling of construction and demolition waste, and energy-efficiency measures.

This information was reprinted from the website of Senator Charles E. Schumer. To find out more, visit (

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