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Groups Urge Biden to Use Existing Authorities to Cut Energy Waste, Carbon from Buildings

November 23, 2020
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New ACEEE briefs give detailed recommendations for manufactured and federally backed housing, federal buildings

 

Washington, DC—In a Biden administration, half a dozen federal agencies should use their authority under existing laws to create jobs, reduce consumers’ utility bills, and mitigate climate change by reducing energy waste from homes and buildings, a coalition of groups urged the President-elect in a letter Monday. The letter was signed by 27 organizations, including energy efficiency advocates, business associations, and environmental and consumer groups.

Energy use in homes and commercial buildings is responsible for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, as well as more than $400 billion in energy bills each year. But much of that energy is wasted, such as from poorly sealed buildings using out-of-date equipment.

The agenda in the letter embraces and expands on proposals published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) in three issue briefs today (as well as in a report on appliance standards released last week).

“A whole bunch of federal agencies already have the authority to act now to greatly reduce energy waste in buildings,” said Lowell Ungar, ACEEE director of federal policy and author of the issue briefs. “Wasteful homes and buildings are just not compatible with tackling the climate crisis. Starting in January, President Biden and his administration should take every opportunity available to spur far more efficient new construction and building improvements.”

The ACEEE briefs and coalition letter from 20 groups call for the Biden administration to:

  • Ensure new federally assisted housing is efficient. About half of home loans are supported by federally regulated Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, yet they currently lack any protections to prevent inefficient housing with significant energy waste and high utility bills. At least 15% of new homes have federally assisted loans or other federal assistance with energy efficiency criteria that are badly out of date. Regulators can ensure that all new newly constructed housing with federal assistance meets up-to-date efficiency requirements. (Agencies: Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, and Federal Housing Finance Agency)
  • Set a strong energy efficiency standard for manufactured homes. More than 100,000 manufactured homes are shipped each year. Most occupants have low incomes, and many are burdened by high energy bills, in part because federal efficiency standards for these homes have not been updated since 1994. The Department of Energy should set standards promptly, and HUD should strengthen ventilation requirements to ensure better air quality.
  • Issue an executive order to improve the efficiency of federal buildings. The federal government should be a leader on deep energy and water efficiency retrofits of existing building and constructing zero-net-energy and zero-carbon buildings (i.e., buildings that, over the course of a year, emit zero carbon and generate as much energy as they use). But progress has stagnated in recent years, and President Trump eliminated targets for annual improvement in the efficiency of these buildings. The new president should issue an executive order spurring federal agencies to meet new goals, increase transparency, and leverage private and innovative financing.

The letter also calls on the Biden administration to:

  • Revive appliance efficiency standards. Appliance standards are the most important federal energy and climate program for buildings. Updating standards could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 to 3 billion tons by 2050. DOE should reverse Trump administration changes that added hurdles to development of new standards, implement light bulb standards that had been legally set to take effect this year, set standards for residential furnaces and commercial water heaters, and expedite dozens of standards due for updates by the end of 2024.
  • Strengthen agency work to drive energy efficiency. Accomplishing the above will require quickly filling vacancies in understaffed agencies, especially DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. And federal efforts to help deploy new technologies need new focus and support. DOE should redouble efforts to help state and local efforts to strengthen building energy codes, implement building performance standards, and integrate smart homes and commercial buildings in a carbon-free electric grid, while EPA should devote new focus and support to the ENERGY STAR® program.

The letter to President-elect Biden was signed by Advanced Energy Economy, Alliance to Save Energy, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, American Institute of Architects, Building Performance Association, California Efficiency + Demand Management Council, Ceres, Consumer Federation of America, DesignLights Consortium, E4TheFuture, Energy Efficiency Alliance, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Institute for Market Transformation, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, National Association of State Energy Officials, National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients, North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, NRDC, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Green Building Council, and VEIC.

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