USGBC Community Works to Accelerate President Obama's Better Buildings Initiative
In a landmark move for green buildings and U.S. energy efficiency policy, President Obama announced in February a package of commercial building policies and incentives dubbed the Better Buildings Initiative, with the goal of achieving a 20 percent improvement in commercial building energy efficiency by 2020. Strongly supported by USGBC, the Better Buildings Initiative (BBI) sets the course for scaling up green retrofits and developing the public-private partnerships to sustain meaningful progress in transforming our existing commercial building stock.
Many of the elements of the initiative echo either recommendations in USGBC's report released last year, Using Executive Authority to Achieve Greener Buildings: A Guide for Policymakers, or our memo submitted jointly with other leading stakeholders to the White House just days before their announcement on BBI, "ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS: Top Priorities for the Obama Administration Using Existing Authorities" (PDF). As USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi said during the White House call that followed the announcement, the only question USGBC member companies and chapters have is, "How can we get started sooner?"
Read a more detailed breakdown on the initiative (PDF) »
Budget Battles in Congress mean Uncertain Future for Federal Green Building Initiatives
Representing one of the first significant acts of the new Republican majority, the House of Representatives, largely on party lines, passed a bill in mid-February that would cut federal government programs for the rest of fiscal year 2011 by over $61 billion. A number of cuts the House voted for would have a devastating impact on important green building programs.
If signed into law, the bill would:
- Reduce funding by $1.6 billion (nearly 20%) of the Federal Building Fund at the General Services Administration (GSA). GSA uses the fund to modernize and update public buildings to make them more efficient and reduce the utility expenses paid for by your tax dollars, largely hiring private-sector employees for the work.
- Reduce $786 million (over 35%) of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office at the Department of Energy (DOE). This is the home base for the Building Technologies Program (BTP), which works with industry, researchers and academia to develop technologies, techniques and tools for making buildings more efficient, more productive and less costly.
- Eliminate $250 million in funds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)'s HOPE VI program, which leverages private-sector dollars to transform existing blighted public housing into vibrant and livable communities.
- Reduce by $10 million the ENERGY STAR program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To date, more than 130,000 buildings across the country have used the ENERGY STAR performance rating system to manage and improve building energy use.
So far, the Senate has yet to pass companion legislation to fund the government for the rest of the year. As Congress continues to find a path forward, two short-term continuing resolutions have been passed to keep the federal government running through April 8.
For now, it appears the battle over the budget is far from over. Keep updated with activities in Congress by viewing the USGBC blog at usgbc.org/blog.
Policymakers Across the Country Push to Ramp Up Green Schools
Since the start of the new year, USGBC and our chapter advocates on the ground have been working with policymakers across the country to facilitate and implement a growing number of policies that support and promote green schools. State legislators in the 50 for 50 Green Schools Caucus Initiative have been particularly active, while Mayor Kevin Johnson of the Mayors' Alliance for Green Schools is leading the way in Sacramento. Here are the highlights:
- On Jan. 20, 2011, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson unveiled a citywide green school strategy. In his State of the City Address (PDF), Mayor Johnson announced a commitment to raise $100 million to retrofit 15 million square feet of school facilities to the LEED benchmark over the next 10 years. By saving money on energy, Johnson expects to protect valuable teaching jobs and improve education for Sacramento's children.
- In South Carolina, state Sens. John Courson and Phil Leventis worked with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina and their local USGBC chapter to host a briefing titled "Creating Jobs through Conservation," featuring testimony about the success of green school initiatives in the Palmetto State and nationwide as an agenda item for the year ahead. Sen. Leventis, a member of the bipartisan National Advisory Council for the 50 for 50 Green Schools Caucus Initiative, spoke about the importance of green schools to the health and productivity of our students and ultimately our nation's economic prosperity.
"We have an opportunity right now to promote jobs in South Carolina by retrofitting and building green schools that will save our taxpayers money and ultimately help improve our education system."
– Sen. Leventis
- On the same day, constituents took U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor on a green school tour in his home state of Arkansas - a result of USGBC's Congressional Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., last September and the work of our Arkansas advocates.
- Meanwhile, the Kentucky USGBC Chapter Advocacy Committee spent a day meeting with more than 30 legislators, laying the groundwork to support and enhance the Commonwealth's existing leadership around green schools. As the House of Representatives was called into session last month, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, co-chair of the Kentucky Green Schools Caucus, arranged for the entire team of USGBC advocates to be recognized on the House floor. Later that evening, six legislators joined the chapter volunteers on a hybrid bus tour to visit a local high-performing school.
- In North Carolina, over 30 USGBC chapter volunteers had a full day of meetings with members of the North Carolina Legislature, using the opportunity to promote dialogue among legislators in the Tar Heel State about the power of green schools.
- Following the success of a green schools summit held in the state this past fall, Nebraska state Sen. Ken Haar hosted a green schools curriculum summit, convening education stakeholders to discuss a plan to incorporate environmental literacy into the education of all children in Nebraska.
- Approximately 40 USGBC chapter volunteers in Texas convened at the Capitol for a day of advocacy, meeting with approximately 100 different members of the Legislature to discuss active green building bills. In an evening reception, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, Chair of the Texas Green Schools Caucus, highlighted the many green schools efforts in the Lone Star State and outlined the importance of increasing dialogue among his colleagues in the Legislature.
The personal and professional connections made by these leading lawmakers and USGBC chapter volunteers in support of green schools exemplify the growing success of one of USGBC's most treasured goals: green schools for all children within this generation. In many ways, the most effective advocacy for this key issue is about facilitating connections – among lawmakers, their constituents, and the many resources that can aid them in advancing green schools.
To get involved in the national green schools movement, and for additional information and resources, visit centerforgreenschools.org.