While many uncertainties surround what 2021 will bring, many feel certain that a Joe Biden presidency will bring renewed focus on energy efficiency and climate. To address what kinds of green building policies could be in store, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) hosted a panel discussion with Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Don Anderson, operating partner and chief sustainability officer at Blackstone, a private equity firm. The panel was moderated by Elizabeth Beardsley, USGBC’s senior policy counsel.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) discusses the future of green building policy.

Castor pointed out that residential and commercial buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of U.S. energy use, adding that low- and moderate-income Americans are carrying much of the financial burden. She said that reducing emissions in the building sector relies on the federal government acting as a strong partner to state and local communities by providing financial incentives and technical support.

“States and local governments have been struggling due to the COVID-19-induced recession. Yet they’ve been leading on energy efficiency and the federal government needs to step up and partner with them,” she said.

Other methods to reduce emissions are to enact improved building codes and standards and to accelerate the development of technologies such as green building materials.

“The federal government is also the country’s largest building manager. There’s a lot we can do to reduce emissions in the federal building footprint,” she said.
The economic impact of green policy is a major consideration, said Castor. She explained that climate solutions are economy solutions with the opportunity to create “millions of good-paying jobs across America.”

“It’s so heartening to see that this is central to President-Elect Biden’s plan for clean energy and environmental justice,” she said, adding that there’s bipartisan support in Congress to boost weatherization assistance. Welch said that Biden has committed to weatherizing two million homes.

He also emphasized that retrofitting buildings with energy efficient solutions could be a major job creator on the local level. Tax credits and incentives could encourage homeowners and building owners to retrofit with energy efficient solutions, which creates an opportunity for contractors to be busy, he said.

Anderson said Blackstone has announced a goal to reduce its emissions by 15% for new acquisitions. However, he told Castor and Welch that the U.S. market is challenged since there are different regulatory interpretations at the regional level, which makes it difficult to decide what to do. He pointed out that several city regulations, the most notable of which is New York City, are now requiring website disclosures or have implemented penalties such as fines for those who don’t comply with energy efficiency regulations. He called for more unification in how energy data is interpreted so his company can make better decisions faster.

Welch explained that green building policies will be outcome-based rather than overly prescriptive.

“We don’t want everyone fighting in a race to the bottom for short-term cost savings but with long-term pain,” he said.

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