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Policy Watch

U.S. Government Has Unveiled First-Ever Federal Building Performance Standard

But is it enough, and how might it impact the housing sector?

Late last year the Biden-Harris Administration unveiled the country’s first-ever proposed emissions standard for federal buildings. In a nutshell, the government’s targets are twofold: cut energy use and electrify equipment and appliances in 30% of federally owned building space by 2030; and achieve net-zero emissions in all federal buildings by 2045.

Federal Building Performance Standard (BPS) is a huge deal, if for no other reason because there is no precedent for one, at least not in the U.S. Such standards and benchmarks have always been left to state houses, local municipalities, or, on particularly good days, the good will of private developers. But not until recently has the U.S. government stepped in and committed to decarbonization on a mass scale. Rather than attempt to get into why that is so (not a mental stretch), let’s get into the potential impacts of the BPS, the kinds of emissions reductions being addressed, how it potentially ties to housing and private development, and perhaps where it falls short.

First the good. Reducing emissions in federally owned building stock even by 30% in the next seven years will help remove tens of millions of metric tons of CO2 equivalent from entering the atmosphere. This is inarguably a good thing. And once building emissions are cut to zero by 2045, that should account for an approximate 25% reduction in the government’s total greenhouse gas emissions output. Again, this is a big deal.

As for total GHG emissions (76% of which comprise CO2), the government is focusing on scope 1 emissions only, which is perhaps where the BPS falls short. According to the White House, the BPS aims to “eliminate scope 1 emissions attributed to standard building operations, including space heating and cooling, water heating,” and other appliances where all-electric alternatives exist. (Scope 1 refers to direct…

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