The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations prohibited funding to implement the phase out of fossil fuel-generated electricity in federal buildings with the approval of the Energy and Water and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2013 on April 25. The bill provides annual funding for the agencies and programs under the Department of Energy (DoE) and other related agencies, and allocates a total of $32.1 billion in federal funds for fiscal year 2013 (FY 2013), $965 million less than President Barack Obama’s budget request, but $88 million above 2012. The bill cuts funding for the DoE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to $1.5 billion, down from the $2.3 billion requested by President Obama and 17 percent less than FY 2012 levels.

In a move that will affect green-building initiatives, the committee passed an amendment to the bill that prohibits funds in FY 2013 (ending Sept. 30, 2013) from being used to implement Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). The amendment was offered by Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Alexander (R-LA) and states: “No funds within this act shall be expended to promulgate the final rule pursuant to Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Pub. L. No. 110-140 (Dec. 19, 2007) (codified at 42 U.S.C. 6834) and no funds shall be used to implement any final rule implementing Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.”

The EISA was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Dec. 19, 2007, and Section 433 addresses federal building energy-efficiency performance standards. Under this legislation, new federal buildings, as well as federal buildings undergoing major renovations, should be designed to reduce fossil fuel consumption according to the following schedule:

Fiscal Year Percentage Reduction
2010 55
2015 65
2020 80
2025 90
2030 100

The Section includes a subclause that allows the requirements to be downgraded for a specific building if the head of the agency designing the building certifies that “meeting such requirement would be technically impracticable in light of the agency’s specified functional needs for that building.” The subclause does not apply to the General Services Administration (GSA).

The amendment to the Energy and Water and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2013 was passed on a voice vote by the appropriations committee. Following the vote, various architecture and green-building organizations expressed dismay. The AIA issued the following statement: “The AIA is opposed to efforts to weaken or eliminate Sec. 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. According to the DOE’s Energy Information Administration, buildings account for almost 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, more than both the transportation and industry sectors. Requiring significant energy-reduction targets in new and renovated federal buildings demonstrates to the private sector that the federal government is leading by example…. Weakening or repealing Sec. 433 with no deliberation or discussion will dramatically harm the federal government’s ability to design and build facilities that use less energy and protect the environment.” The AIA also issues an open letter to the members of the House Appropriations Committee that can be found here.

Kateria Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said, “We strongly protest the House committee’s decision to slash funds for a number of foundational, cost-effective energy-efficiency programs…. Overall, the House Appropriations Committee has taken a short-sighted stance on energy-efficiency programs. We look to the committee’s Senate counterpart to reverse these harmful cuts.”

Meg Waltner, energy efficiency advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "As the single-largest consumer of energy in the country, the federal government can save a lot of energy and help the environment immensely by reducing its use of oil, coal, and other fossil fuels in government buildings. We think Congress ought to be moving us forward down a road to a cleaner energy futurenot putting up roadblocks like the House of Representatives is doing with this action."

Presenting the Energy and Water and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2013 to the committee, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) noted that priority in funding was given to programs that support economic competitiveness, reduce the volatility of gasoline prices, and strengthen the nation’s security. The bill includes $554 million for research and development to advance coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil fuelbased technologies, as well as $765 million for nuclear energy research and development.

Speaking against the bill, Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN), said,   “I am disappointed that renewable energy programs in this bill are drastically reduced. In providing critical research and development for those sectors that currently provide the bulkof our electricity generation, we cannot sacrifice the future. Renewable energy can achieve cost competitiveness, but a continued and sustained research and development program is necessary and appropriate in order to do so.”

The bill will now be taken up by the full House of Representatives.

On April 24, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development approved its own FY 2013 bill, allocating a total of $33.361 billion, $27.128 billion of which goes to the DoE with a priority on advancing clean-energy technologies and investment in research to spur economic growth. The bill provides $1.98 billion to advance solar, biomass, and vehicle technologies, and it currently does not include an amendment similar to that in the House bill. On April 26, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the Senate bill by a vote of 28-1. The measure will now go to the full Senate for consideration.