Political Hardball

Last week I received a press release from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) headlined, “Architects Oppose Effort to Repeal Energy Reduction Law for Federal Buildings.” This was in response to an action last week by the House Appropriations Committee, which approved the 2013 Energy and Water appropriations bill that included an amendment (sponsored by Congressman Rodney Alexander, a Republican from Louisiana) prohibiting the use of appropriated funds to implement Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

What is Section 433 and why should architects care? The provision is in many ways—all of them good, in my view—a radical one. It mandates a fossil fuel-free future for federal buildings. According to the law, all new federal buildings and older buildings undergoing renovations of more than $2.5 million are required to substantially cut their use of fossil fuels. The provision sets rigorous, targeted goals that culminate in a 100% reduction by 2030. For all practical purposes, this represents nothing less than the federal adoption of Edward Mazria’s 2030 Challenge.

So, who is behind this attempt to thwart and ultimately kill Section 433?  According to E&E Daily (an organization that monitors energy policy on Capitol Hill), the American Gas Association and the Federal Performance Contracting Coalition (FPCC) have been lobbying congressional offices seeking the modification or repeal of Section 433. FPCC members include: Ameresco, Chevron, Constellation Energy Services, FPL Energy Services, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Lockheed Martin, Noresco, Pepco Energy Services, Schneider-Electric, Siemens Government Services, Inc., and Trane/Ingersoll Rand. There’s no surprise in seeing the likes of Chevron here (they are, after all, in the business of selling fossil fuels), but there are a couple of surprises. Schneider-Electric has actually signed onto the 2030 Challenge. Johnson Controls has a Zero Energy Buildings Whitepaper featured on their website.  Many of the other companies are prominent in the field of energy efficiency.

What gives?

“Frankly, I’m bewildered,” Edward Mazria said, when I called him to get his take. “It’s hard for me to believe that manufacturers and companies that promote carbon neutral and net zero energy buildings, or signed onto the 2030 Challenge can now take a contrary position and support weakening or repeal of Section 433. Is it possible that this legislation was misrepresented to them? I can see no other plausible explanation for their shift.”

In the meantime, both the AIA and the ASHRAE  (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) have come out strongly in favor of keeping Section 433 as is, which puts a lot of these FPCC companies in the uncomfortable position of being politically at odds with their customers. Not the best place to be.

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