In a law passed in 2007, the federal government was directed to phase out the use of fossil fuels in new and renovated federal buildings by 2030. Two U.S. senators, one Democrat and one Republican, have introduced a measure that would repeal that plan and replace it with an “all-of-the-above” energy conservation law.
Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) said that their proposed legislation would direct building managers to make efficiency improvements that were identified in congressional audits, and require that existing buildings meet new efficiency standards when they are renovated, E&E News reports. But the bill would repeal the fossil fuel phaseout that’s currently on the books, known as Section 433.
“Instead of prohibiting the use of fossil fuels in new federal buildings, we should rely on all of our available energy resources,” a statement at Hoeven’s Senate website says. “By encouraging the use of innovative technologies and practices, instituting reasonable goals and allowing building managers flexibility, we can achieve better environmental stewardship in a cost-effective manner.”
The two senators introduced similar bills in 2013 and 2015, setting off a debate that could be repeated this year.
The Sierra Club and the American Institute of Architects were among those opposing the repeal when the plan was debated in 2016. In a joint letter, the two organization said, “We simply cannot address the threat of climate change without addressing carbon pollution from the building sector, and Federal facilities must represent the best in American design, technology, and innovation.”
The American Gas Association, the Alliance to Save Energy, and others supported the repeal of Section 433, arguing there were more practical ways to increase energy efficiency. A competing letter from two dozen industry and trade groups said that the fossil fuel provision was too complicated for the federal government to enforce. “Thus,” the letter said, “there are continuing concerns that it could discourage comprehensive energy efficiency renovations, stifle innovations and result in increased energy costs for the federal government.”
Both Hoeven and Manchin are members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and both represent states where energy is an economic powerhouse. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal production in West Virginia in 2016 was more than 79 million short tons, the most of any state in the country. North Dakota produced 392 million barrels of crude oil in 2017, second only to Texas.
The new bill, unlike earlier measures, does not require that federal buildings reduce energy use by certain percentages each year, E&E said.