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We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

How Can President Biden Drive Toward 100% Zero-Emissions Buildings?

Evergreen’s new report lays out an executive action agenda for clean buildings standards, investments, and justice. Here’s a summary of the paper’s top recommendations.

We stand at a pivotal moment. The Inflation Reduction Act made historic investments in decarbonizing America’s built environment, but President Biden must go further. In our new report, A National Roadmap for Clean Buildings, Evergreen Action lays out a roadmap for how President Biden can use executive action to close the gap on air pollution in the buildings sector. We recommend a set of ambitious standards to complement new investments, establishing firm timelines for improving public health outcomes and cutting carbon and other harmful pollution in communities across the country.

Eliminating air pollution from the built environment will be critical for the clean energy transition. Seventy million homes and businesses currently burn fossil fuels for heating, cooking, and other needs. Direct emissions from fossil-fueled air and water heating and cooking appliances alone account for 13 percent of national carbon pollution. Beyond climate warming impacts, this pollution has major implications for public health: the nation’s fossil fuel appliances emit more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than all of America’s fossil gas power plants combined. NOx contributes to the formation of local smog and fine particulate matter, causing billions of dollars of public health impacts across America and thousands of premature deaths each year; residential and commercial emissions are now the leading cause of cross-state early deaths from air pollution.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) contains more than a dozen provisions to tackle this pollution, including rebates for electric appliances and tax credits for net-zero ready homes. But analysts indicate that further policymaking focused on pollution mitigation will be necessary. That’s where executive action comes in. President Biden must pursue a five-point strategy, laid out here, to implement rigorous pollution standards and achieve full decarbonization of America’s built environment.

1. Apply EPA Standards to Drive Toward 100 Percent Clean Appliances

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can apply Clean Air Act (CAA) authorities to drive complete decarbonization and electrification of new appliances by 2030. By moving to include appliances as a source category under the CAA, EPA can empower itself to adopt firm and simple zero-emission Clean Appliance Standards. Such standards would send a clear signal that the U.S. market is moving to zero-emission appliances, provide industry stakeholders with a set timeline for that shift, and create a compliance framework for enforcing that timeline. As a complementary measure, EPA can also modernize the ENERGY STAR program to exclude fossil fuel appliances. Doing so would align directly with ENERGY STAR objectives—fossil fuel heating, for example, is far less efficient and far more polluting than electric alternatives.

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2. Improve DOE Appliance Efficiency Standards

Appliance efficiency standards are a proven policy: it’s estimated that federal efficiency standards implemented between 1987 and 2013 saved American households $56 billion in utility costs, reducing overall national energy demand and carbon pollution by four percent. But the Department of Energy (DOE) is facing a severe backlog in updating these standards, with 66 appliance categories out of date. DOE must first undo Trump administration rules that make it harder to update standards, and then prioritize revising efficiency standards that maximize peak electricity reductions, fossil-fuel heating reductions, and utility bill savings during the next two years. The agency has made some progress along these lines, but must move faster and further streamline the update process in collaboration with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

3. Implement 100 Percent Clean Federal Buildings

The federal building stock consists of approximately 115,000 civilian buildings spread across 1.15 billion square feet and annually consuming a massive amount of energy. In December 2021, the Biden administration committed to reducing carbon pollution in those buildings by 50 percent by 2032, and to reaching net-zero emissions in 100 percent of all federal buildings by 2045. The White House can drive toward that objective with their proposed Federal Building Performance Standard (BPS), a policy that requires reductions in pollution and energy consumption over time. Our paper lays out an ideal framework for that standard, including key metrics, interim targets, and compliance measures.

As they craft a new BPS, the administration must also enforce Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act and Information Act. Sec. 433 mandates that newly constructed and majorly renovated federal buildings reduce fossil fuel energy consumption by 55 percent starting in FY 2010 and achieve a 100 percent reduction by FY 2030 with interim goals between. While President Obama’s DOE commenced a rulemaking to implement this statutory requirement, they never finalized it. We call on the Biden DOE to finalize that rulemaking process urgently, and on the White House to issue an executive order directing all new federal construction projects to comply with the 2030 goal of 100 percent fossil fuel reduction.

"The nation’s fossil fuel appliances emit more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than all of America’s fossil gas power plants combined."

4. Advance Environmental Justice through the Weatherization Assistance Program

Since 1976, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and its grantees have provided weatherization services to increase energy efficiency, reduce energy expenditures, and improve health and safety in low-income, energy-burdened, and vulnerable homes. The program has been wildly successful, weatherizing over 7 million eligible households and cost-effectively providing health and safety benefits in communities across the country. But to further advance efficiency and electrification in the built environment, the Biden DOE must make some modifications to the program. Those improvements should include tightening rules that would encourage electrification, incorporating the health costs of fossil fuels into project analyses, and calculating savings based on both heating and cooling from new heat pumps, among other measures.

5. Advance the Equitable Implementation of Clean Building Provisions in the IRA and IIJA

As a package, the Inflation Reduction Act represents an unprecedented investment in cutting carbon pollution. It is now incumbent on the Biden administration to put its Justice40 Initiative and equity commitments into real practice as it implements the IRA, as well as the IIJA. Thus, funding to states should be issued with guidance to prioritize clean building projects located within disadvantaged communities, as established through the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. States must likewise ensure that federal funds go to supporting high-quality union jobs and employing workers from disadvantaged communities, through project labor agreements, community benefits agreements, and other mechanisms developed in partnership with community leaders. The Biden administration must ensure that these considerations, among several others laid out in the full paper, are taken into account as agencies begin distributing buildings sector investments.

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Achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy will require a cross-sectoral approach, with standards, investments, and justice brought to bear economy-wide. Congress delivered investments with the IRA and Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act; the administration’s Justice40 commitment, alongside justice-focused provisions of the IRA, should advance climate justice. But the buildings sector lacks a framework of standards to ensure complete decarbonization at the pace demanded by climate science. President Biden must pursue every available avenue to cut carbon pollution, and he should urgently enact the ambitious agenda laid out in this new report within his first term.

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