Don't Phase Out Fossil Fuels in Federal Buildings Just Yet, Senators Say in Crafting Bill

Federal Building Photo Credit Ken Cedeno Bloomberg News

Senate energy efficiency legislation likely to be reintroduced the week of Feb. 24 will include a measure that would block a requirement that federal buildings phase out fossil fuel use, among other Republican-backed amendments, according to industry groups and others monitoring the bill.

The amendment, to the energy efficiency bill expected to be introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would repeal a section of a 2007 energy law that requires new and certain renovated federal buildings to phase out the use of fossil-fuel generated energy by 2030.

The amendment, by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), is supported by groups such as the American Gas Association, and opposed by groups such as the Sierra Club and the U.S. Green Building Council, who have threatened to pull their support for the underlying bill if it is included.

“This is a significant victory for AGA and other stakeholders that have spent years trying to advance a repeal of the fossil fuel ban,” the American Gas Association, which represents utilities and other suppliers of natural gas, wrote in a “legislative update” e-mail obtained by Bloomberg BNA Feb. 24.

“AGA was successful in tempering those attacks and in persuading Senate leadership to include Hoeven-Manchin into the underlying bill, which is likely the only legislative vehicle for the repeal of the fossil fuel ban in this Congress,” the trade group, which confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, wrote.

2007 Requirement Unworkable

At issue is what is known as Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Pub. L. 110-140).

The Energy Department has yet to issue a final rule implementing the requirement phase out the use of fossil-fuel generated energy by 2030, and opponents of the measure say it is unworkable.

Instead, the Hoeven-Manchin amendment is expected to set new and more aggressive energy efficiency standards for federal buildings.

Similar legislation (S. 1199) introduced by the senators in 2013 would extend current efficiency targets from a 30 percent reduction by 2015 to a 45 percent reduction by 2020 and would set standards for alterations and additions to federal buildings.

The previous version of the Shaheen-Portman bill (S. 1392) would have established voluntary national model building codes, authorized $350 million for measures to increase energy conservation in the federal government and boosted energy efficiency in the manufacturing sector.

Effort to Limit LEED

However, the legislation stalled on the Senate floor in September 2013 due to Republican opposition during a fight over possible amendments.

The latest version of the bill is expected to incorporate several Republican backed amendments related to energy efficiency to garner more Republican support.

Among them is a measure (S. 1106) by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), that would allow a home's expected energy cost savings to be included when determining the value and affordability of the property, Shaheen said in congressional testimony Feb. 12.

According to the American Gas Association summary, other amendments expected to be incorporated into the bill include a measure that would limit the use of the U.S. Green Building Council's updated building rating system, LEED v4, in federal buildings.

The measure, which is backed by the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufactures such as Dow Chemical Co. and Dupont, was filed as an amendment to S. 1392 by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who now chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Energy Star Requirements Lessened

Another amendment to be included in the efficiency bill, according to the AGA, is a measure supported by Landrieu and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) that would lessen third-party energy verification requirements for participation in the voluntary Energy Star efficiency labeling program.

The certification requirement, which mandates that participants in the voluntary program have the energy usage of their products tested in third-party laboratories, was instituted in January 2011 following negative reports about the product labeling program, leading to complaints from some electronics manufactures and congressional Republicans.

An additional amendment, backed by Hoeven that would lessen energy efficiency standards for so-called grid enabled water heaters, which include features that allow the appliance to interact with smart grids, will be included in the legislation as well, according to the AGA.

While the inclusion of those amendments in the legislation are expected to increase Republican support for the Shaheen-Portman bill, which may be reintroduced Feb. 27 or 28, it remains to be seen if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can reach a broader agreement to limit amendments, which is needed for the bill to proceed.

Shaheen's office did not respond to a request for comment.


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