Nov. 5 -- When Barack Obama won the presidential race yesterday, he not only made history as the first African American to be elected to the nation's highest office, he also opened the door to green initiatives that could have a significant impact on issues affecting building pros, such as building efficiency, renewable energy initiatives, and green jobs. And with energy and fuel prices on a roller coaster ride and awareness about climate change swelling, the Democrat's energy and environmental proposals could have played a role in the outcome Nov. 4.
"Green-collar jobs" was a buzzword throughout the campaign. Jason Hartke, director of advocacy and public policy for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), 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.
But any green jobs legislation needs to 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).
The Democratic president-elect is a big proponent of climate change legislation. He supports 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, and his plan is aggressive in the timetable and the amount of reductions.
Overall, "Obama's [environment] plan is a little more specific" than the proposal made by his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Hartke says. Its call to weatherize at least 1 million low-income homes each year, for example, is "a very important platform position," he contends. "It hits on energy efficiency, but also a very important social equity issue."
Because the candidates were campaigning for so many months, neither was 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.
The League of Conservation Voters, an advocacy organization that reviews politicians' environmental records and that endorsed Obama, gave Obama an 86% lifetime score on his legislative record and a 67% score in 2007, saying he made 10 pro-environment votes and one anti-environment vote, and was absent for four environmental votes last year.
Below is a list of green initiatives proposed by Obama, in his own words. All quotes are taken from Obama's Web site. Obama's campaign did not respond to requests from EcoHome for details on how the initiatives would be implemented or paid for.
* Weatherize 1 million homes annually. "Obama will make a national commitment to weatherize at least one million low-income homes each year for the next decade, which can reduce energy usage across the economy and help moderate energy prices for all."
* Set building efficiency goals. "Obama will establish a goal of making all new buildings carbon neutral, or produce zero emissions, by 2030. He'll also establish a national goal of improving new building efficiency by 50 percent and existing building efficiency by 25 percent over the next decade to help us meet the 2030 goal."
* Establish a grant program for early adopters. "Obama will create a competitive grant program to award those states and localities that take the first steps in implementing new building codes that prioritize energy efficiency, and provide a federal match for those states with leading-edge public benefits funds that support energy efficiency retrofits of existing buildings."
* Expand federal efficiency grants. "Obama will also expand federal grant programs to help states and localities build more efficient public buildings, including libraries, schools, and police stations that adopt aggressive green building provisions like those provided by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Buildings Council."
UTILITIES AND ELECTRIC GRID
* Flip incentives to energy utilities. "An Obama administration will 'flip' incentives to utility companies by requiring states to conduct proceedings to implement incentive changes and offering them targeted technical assistance. These measures will benefit utilities for improving energy efficiency, rather than just from supporting higher energy consumption. This 'regulatory equity' starts with the decoupling of profits from increased energy usage, which will incentivize utilities to partner with consumers and the federal and state governments to reduce monthly energy bills for families and businesses."
* Overhaul federal efficiency standards. "The current Department of Energy has missed 34 deadlines for setting updated appliance efficiency standards, which has cost American consumers millions of dollars in unrealized energy savings. Obama will overhaul this process for appliances and provide more resources to his Department of Energy so it implements regular updates for efficiency standards. He will also work with Congress to ensure that it continues to play a key role in improving our national efficiency codes."
* Phase out incandescents. "Obama supports the effort led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to update federal lighting efficiency standards to ensure that new lighting technologies are phased into the marketplace. As president, Obama will implement legislation that phases out traditional incandescent light bulbs by 2014."
* Increase share of government electricity from renewable sources. "As president, Obama will ensure that at least 30 percent of the federal government's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020."
* Require 25% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025. "Obama will establish a 25 percent federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require that 25 percent of electricity consumed in the U.S. is derived from clean, sustainable energy sources, like solar, wind, and geothermal by 2025."
* Build neighborhoods around alternative transportation. "Obama believes that we must devote substantial resources to repairing our roads and bridges. He also believes that we must devote significantly more attention to investments that will make it easier for us to walk, bicycle, and access other transportation alternatives. Obama is committed to reforming the federal transportation funding and leveling employer incentives for driving and public transit."
* Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. "Obama's cap-and-trade policy will require all pollution credits to be auctioned, and proceeds will go to investments in a clean energy future, habitat protections, and rebates and other transition relief for families."
* Invest in clean energy. "The Obama-Biden comprehensive New Energy for America plan will help create 5 million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future."