Groups release plan for Biden to slash CO2 without Congress

Source: By Lesley Clark, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 23, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden could use executive orders and federal agencies when in office to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a major cause — leaky, outdated buildings — according to a road map released today by 20 energy efficiency and building groups.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council and other organizations note that energy use in homes and commercial buildings is responsible for a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, as well as $400 billion in energy bills. Much of the energy consumed, they contend, is wasted by poorly sealed buildings that use out-of-date equipment.

Without a Democratic Senate majority — or even with a narrow one — sweeping climate legislation may be out of reach for Biden. But a number of groups have highlighted moves the Democrat could take without Congress.

In the letter and accompanying position papers sent today to Biden’s transition team, the organizations say that a half-dozen federal agencies could be deployed to further Biden’s efforts to combat climate change, including by updating Department of Energy rules to prevent 1.5 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon emissions by midcentury.

“Wasteful homes and buildings are just not compatible with tackling the climate crisis,” said Lowell Ungar, the energy efficiency council’s director of federal policy. “Starting in January, President Biden and his administration should take every opportunity available to spur far more efficient new construction and building improvements.”

The recommendations include urging Biden to issue an executive order to improve the efficiency of federal buildings and position the federal government as a leader in retrofitting existing federal buildings and constructing zero-carbon new federal buildings.

The federal government is the largest building owner and manager in the U.S., with more than 350,000 buildings that shed 30 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year, Ungar said.

In 2015, then-President Obama issued an executive order to promote energy conservation at federal agencies. President Trump revoked the measure.

The letter also calls on a Biden Department of Energy to set stronger energy efficiency standards for manufactured homes, noting that 100,000 are shipped every year under a federal efficiency standard that was last updated in 1994.

Additionally, it urges changes to ensure that all newly constructed housing with federal assistance meets up-to-date efficiency requirements. Department of Housing and Urban Development efficiency criteria to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code should be updated, and direct lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should apply the same criteria for loans, they said.

The Appliance Standards Awareness Project and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy last week urged Biden to move aggressively on DOE appliance standards (Energywire, Nov. 17).

Today’s letter notes that updating those standards would require quickly filling vacancies in understaffed agencies with top experts, especially at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

Congress has focused in the past year on a staffing shortage in the DOE division that oversees efficiency and renewables, questioning the Trump administration’s commitment.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette has acknowledged the frustration with staffing levels and pledged to lawmakers that the agency would improve its record (Energywire, Aug. 27).

On the campaign trail, Biden promised an “historic investment” in energy upgrades to buildings as part of his $2 trillion green energy plan. That plan calls for measures such as upgrades to 4 million buildings and legislation to set a net-zero emissions standard for all new commercial buildings by 2030.