While much of the media hyperbole has focused on the Trump Administration’s 2018 Budget request of $5.7 Billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a reduction of $2.6 billion, or 31%, from the 2017 level of funding, little attention has been paid to specific priorities including the resultant opportunities for green building.
One of the key ways the U.S. Government sets priorities is through the budget. Last Thursday the Trump Administration submitted to Congress a 53 page “skinny” budget reprioritizing federal spending. And while the Administration will propose a more comprehensive budget in May for fiscal year 2018, this blueprint will factor large into the ongoing negotiations over the continuing budget resolution for fiscal year 2017 that expires on April 28, 2017.
Skinny budgets are a common practice for a first year of a new President, but this lean 53 page blueprint may be the skinniest. The Congressional Research Service noted President Jimmy Carter’s first budget was 101 pages, President George H. W. Bush’s was 193 pages, and President George W. Bush’s was 207 pages.
Despite its brevity, the skinny budget has brought cries of an apocalyptic end of times. This brief blog post cannot comprehensively address the EPA budget, so instead it will highlight some of the opportunities that exist for green building.
The budget reflects a focus on core statutory requirements of the EPA and the important role of the States and others in protecting the environment. It seeks to curtail policy made by “sue and settle” tactics where an ideologically sympathetic group is invited by a federal agency to file a lawsuit with the aim of settling the case with a result not legislatively achievable.
The budget skinny:
Discontinues funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs including the Paris Climate Accord, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts – saving over $100 million compared to 2017 levels; all campaign pledges.
Reins in Superfund administrative costs and emphasizes efficiency efforts by funding the Hazardous Substance Superfund account at $762 million, $330 million below the 2017 level; advancing State Brownfields programs and making more valuable the LEED Brownfield credit.
Eliminates funding for more appropriately state and local efforts such as the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, and other programs brought about by sue and settle tactics.
And significantly, eliminates more than 50 EPA programs including Energy Star.
From its legislative origins on March 15, 1992, Energy Star began as a series of voluntary programs, like Green Lights and the Methane Program seeking to reduce energy consumption by power plants, that morphed into a voluntary labeling program to identify and promote energy efficient products (first computer equipment and later everything from dishwashers to refrigerators), eventually ballooning into a more than $57 Million bureaucracy that also includes the online tool Portfolio Manager that is key to green building programs.
Portfolio Manager uses an automated benchmarking tool that can award Energy Star certification to buildings that have uploaded 12 months of consecutive energy usage data and received scores of 75 or above, meaning that when compared to other similar buildings of the same space type, based on a national average, a building performed better than 75% of similar buildings. More than 1.6 million homes and more than 25,000 commercial buildings carry Energy Star certification
Energy Star appliances and Portfolio Manager ratings have been incorporated into green building standards, including by way of example that a Portfolio Manager score of 75 is a prerequisite for LEED for Existing Buildings.
Several cities even have mandatory reporting requirements that certain privately owned commercial buildings report energy usage to the government using Energy Star, including Washington, DC, Seattle, and San Francisco.
And since 2010 the GSA has only entered into a lease for federal agencies in a building with an Energy Star score of 75 or above, a policy expected to soon end.
Much that Energy Star has transmogrified into can be spun positively, but it is a very long way from the power plant program authorized by Congress in 1992. As the Trump Administration moves to deconstruct the administrative state, many wonder if Energy Star is a good role or even a proper role for the federal government?
A widely circulated leaked copy of a preliminary version of the skinny contained the following language, that was not in the final version, but likely accurately portends the changing culture in Washington, DC, “EPA should begin developing legislative options and associated groundwork for transferring ownership and implementation of Energy Star to a non-governmental entity.” And also noting that the budget request would leave $5 Million “for the closeout or transfer of all the climate protection voluntary partnership programs,” the only question may be who acquires Energy Star.
Many have already concluded that the likely non-governmental entity to take over Energy Star is the U.S. Green Building Council associated, Green Business Certification Inc. that today provides independent professional credentialing and project certification programs related to green building; not to mention GBCI’s natural compulsion to protect the heavily Energy Star reliant LEED. GBCI has been in a multi year acquisition phase for other standards and it is no secret that there have been discussions about Energy Star.
Another possible suitor for Energy Star is the Columbia Law School, Sabin Center for Climate Change. And while it might seem an odd fit, in particular at a time when academia is held in lower disregard than Congress, the program’s charismatic director, Michael Gerrard, might find fighting climate change through Energy Star preferable to being relegated to the permanent opposition.
Also proposed to be eliminated is the EPA WaterSence program. WaterSense products and services that have earned the label must be at least 20 percent more efficient than base codes and the close ties to green building programs including LEED also makes GBCI a likely candidate for that acquisition.
Once the dust settles from the ideological Armageddon over the budget request and possibly with a push off the ledge when the President announces the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris Accord, it will become clear there are opportunities for Energy Star, for WaterSense, and for the voluntary stewardship of the environment.