USGBC
Logo Leed Round V3

USGBC: Congress Poised to Tackle Infrastructure, Green Building Policies

April 20, 2021
As Earth Day arrives this week, the U.S. Green Building Council reviews the current status of revived legislative efforts to promote sustainable building practices.

By ELIZABETH BEARDSLEY, Senior Policy Counsel, USGBC

(Washington DC, April 19, 2021) -- The Biden administration released its broad outline for an infrastructure package several weeks ago in the American Jobs Plan. USGBC is pleased that the plan includes buildings as an essential element. The administration plan proposes funding K–12 public school construction and renovation, an important priority for USGBC and the Center for Green Schools, and one for which we’ve long been advocating. The plan includes investment in federal buildings, as well as critical facilities such as health care and local government buildings. In addition, the plan calls for building, preserving and retrofitting more than 2 million homes and commercial buildings.

Congress has been developing many of these smart policy proposals as well, some since the last session. Here are a few bills—and their Senate and House champions— we are following that align with USGBC priorities and key buildings policies in the administration proposals.

Schools

The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act (H.R. 604), introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and the companion Senate Bill (S. 96), introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), would distribute funds to states based on Title I funding. States would allocate all funds competitively to school districts based on both poverty level and the severity of school facilities needs. The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act would invest in green schools for new construction and major rehabilitation, and it includes provisions for energy and water efficiency. Additional measures to support resilience and climate mitigation could be included.

The Renew America’s Schools Act of 2021 (S. 694) sponsored by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and the companion House bill (H.R. 3322, as introduced in the 116th Congress) by Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA), and included in the LIFT America Act as section 32201, would establish a new Department of Energy–administered, competitive, needs-based grant program for efficiency and on-site renewable energy at schools. This program includes, in addition to renewable energy systems and efficiency, related improvements that support student health, such as daylighting, ventilation, green roofs and other features.

Federal buildings

The GREEN Buildings Jobs Act (S. 832), sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), and the Federal Building Clean Jobs Act (H.R. 2060) sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), will create important construction jobs across the country in the near term—while leveraging private finance to save federal dollars in the long term via reduced operations costs. These bills would help usher in the next phase of leadership in federal buildings with goals, direction and targeted funding, including energy and water intensity reductions, greenhouse gas reductions, net zero energy in new construction, deep energy retrofits, and zero emission vehicle charging at certain federal facilities.

Language also authorizes use of the cost of carbon in decision-making and to reduce embodied carbon; and requires leveraging of private finance to stretch federal funds to do more. The bills include provisions for resilient and healthy buildings that establish flood risk reduction requirements that take into account climate science and requires prioritization of green infrastructure. The bills authorize funding to the General Services Administration (GSA) to implement resilience and health measures at federal facilities, including guidance and training across agencies. The Cardin bill is focused on the GSA, whereas the Sarbanes bill is governmentwide.

Critical facilities and public buildings

The Open Back Better Act of 2021 (S. 531), introduced by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and the companion House bill sponsored by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) (116-H.R. 7303, contained in the LIFT America Act) would provide federal seed funding leveraged with private capital, to invest in needed energy and resilience improvements at critical facilities such as hospitals, schools and local government buildings. The proposal will create jobs all across the country, while providing resilient, efficient and flexible spaces to sustain communities in the future and during times of crisis.

H.R. 2119, as introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) in the 116th Congress (and included as section 32101 in the LIFT America Act) would fund a grant program for state and local building energy efficiency.

S. 3711, sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and H.R. 2088, sponsored by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) (and included as section 32102 in the LIFT America Act) would reauthorize the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. The bills would enhance this program to provide grants for efficiency, distributed energy resources, district heating and cooling, and zero emission vehicle infrastructure.

Homes and communities

The Green Neighborhoods Act (introduced in the 116th Congress as H.R. 8021) by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), invests in new green housing, creating jobs and better living conditions for low-income families. The act would establish updated energy efficiency requirements for Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, and establish energy efficiency standards and certifications for manufactured homes with mortgages. The bill would address the inclusion of energy efficiency characteristics in mortgage underwriting. Other sections of the bill support greening neighborhoods, sustainable development, benchmarking, and funding for workforce development across energy efficient retrofits, construction, deconstruction, building maintenance and management, and manufacturing of sustainable processes and materials.

The HOPE for Homes Act, contained in the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, LIFT America Act, (H.R. 1848), sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), would support training of residential energy efficiency workers, plus rebates to homeowners to update energy systems. Through the establishment of grants for online workforce training, residential contractors will immediately gain access to online training designed to prepare them to conduct comprehensive home energy efficiency retrofits and allow contracting businesses to rehire and reinvest in their employees during the economic downturn. The Home Energy Savings Retrofit rebate program would then act as a stimulus, encouraging homeowners to undertake energy retrofits of their homes and driving demand for these highly trained workers.

Private sector tax incentives

The GREEN Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), would restore, extend and update key tax incentives for building energy efficiency, as well as clean and renewable energy. The GREEN Act would update the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings, or 179D, deduction, by increasing its value from $1.80 per square foot to $3 per square foot and by modifying the standard.

We are advocating for further revisions to this deduction, potentially with several tiers, whereby a net zero building would receive a higher value deduction. The 45L New Energy Efficient Home Credit would also be updated. USGBC supports increasing the value and the standard and are advocating for the use of Energy Star–certified new homes. USGBC supports the GREEN Act’s inclusion of energy storage, with battery storage in 25D for residential property and thermal storage at the building scale in the section 48, Energy Credit. These technologies are needed to help reduce peak demands on our power grids and contribute to flexibility and resilience, as well as decarbonization.

The Energy Efficient Qualified Improvement Property (E-QUIP) Act (H.R. 2346) sponsored by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Rep. Tom Rice (D-SC) would give building energy investments accelerated, uniform 10-year depreciation if they meet strict energy efficiency criteria. We see this as a valuable new addition to incentives to enable businesses to make additional investments in energy efficiency, where payback for efficiency investments may be relatively short.

##########

Ready to get involved? Join USGBC's Advocacy Working Group.

##########