Although much of the recent political conversation has been about the financial crisis, the 2008 presidential election could have a significant impact on other issues affecting building pros, such as building efficiency, renewable energy initiatives, and green jobs. And with energy and fuel prices surging around the world and awareness about climate change swelling, Democratic Senator Barack Obama's and Republican Senator John McCain's energy and environmental proposals could play an important role in voters' decisions on Election Day Nov. 4.
Despite the partisan bickering, the two candidates' policies are not diametrically opposed. "There really is a lot more alignment between the two platforms than folks may at first expect," says Jason Hartke, director of advocacy and public policy for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). "They both do a very good job of emphasizing energy efficiency in their platforms." While their tactics are different, the emphasis on efficiency is good because it's the greenest and most cost-efficient option available, he says.
"Green-collar jobs" has been a buzzword throughout the campaign, and Hartke notes that "creating new jobs is going to be part of the answer" to the economic recovery. Recent studies predict that investments in green initiatives could create millions of positions, he says. "Each candidate recognizes that there is an amazing opportunity to create new jobs, especially in the building sector." But any green jobs legislation should make training and workforce development funding available to building pros, not just workers affiliated with labor unions, says Elizabeth Odina, federal legislative director for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Meanwhile, both candidates are big proponents of climate change legislation, Odina says. Both support a "cap-and-trade" policy on carbon emissions, which sets a price for carbon, providing financial encouragement for utilities and other industries to look for greenhouse gas reductions, though Obama's policy is more aggressive in the timetable and the amount of reductions.
Overall, "Obama's [environment] plan is a little more specific," Hartke says. Its call to weatherize at least 1 million low-income homes each year, for example, is "a very important platform position," he says. "It hits on energy efficiency, but also a very important social equity issue." Obama also is more aggressive on renewable energy portfolio standards (see Renewable Energy, below).
Because the candidates have been campaigning for so many months, neither has been in Washington for many Senate votes on the environment. Nevertheless, Obama voted to approve the "CLEAN Energy Act of 2007," which raises fuel-efficiency standards, establishes energy-efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings, and promotes renewable fuels. McCain did not vote.