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The Upcoming Senate Vote for Higher Energy Bills

At a time when Congress is looking to cut federal spending, the U.S. Senate is about to vote on an amendment that would cost taxpayers more in wasted energy.

As soon as next week, Republican Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), with the support of oil and gas producers, will offer an amendment to an energy efficiency bill that would eviscerate a tool that government agencies are using to make their buildings more energy efficient, reduce costs, and promote innovation in building design. Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act, signed into law in 2007 by President Bush, sets targets for cutting fossil fuel use in new and renovated federal buildings by 2030. But Sen. Hoeven’s amendment would repeal that rule, leaving the feds without an important tool to reduce energy use in government buildings throughout the country.

As an architect, I am writing to say that is bad public policy. Here’s why:

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that buildings use more energy than any industry sector—48 percent of the total. More than 75 percent of all the electricity produced at power plants in the US goes to operate buildings. As the owner and operator of millions of square feet of buildings – from courthouses to office buildings to VA hospitals and embassies abroad – the federal government spends $6 billion per year in taxpayer dollars just to power these facilities. Shouldn’t they make sure their buildings use as little energy as possible?

If that’s not enough numbers to make you think twice about the vote, consider this: the U.S. government ranks fourth on the Greenhouse 100 index, the first ranking of U.S. industrial polluters on the basis of their emissions of the gases responsible for global climate change. According to June report by the University of Massachusetts, the U.S. government weighs in at 77 million tons – equivalent to the emissions of 15 million cars. So, the Senate may soon take a huge step backward by voting on a bill that would repeal Section 433 of EISA.

Ironically, the private sector increasingly recognizes the importance of innovative, energy efficient design. Large corporations, from Starbucks to Target to Walgreens, are asking architects to design their properties to use less energy. They know it’s good for the bottom line.

As architects, we are prepared to lead the design of a more sustainable future. But we need the Federal government to lead by example.

Joe Smith is President of AIA (State)

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