January Policy Tracker: New year, new opportunity

Happy new year and welcome to 2019! The general attitude going into 2019 was thank gosh 2018 is over. I am not sure what it was about 2018, but everyone sure seemed happy to leave it behind and look forward to the future. I was among them. One thing that we definitely need to leave behind is the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Shocker, I know! But, after three years of decline, the U.S. saw a 3.4 percent rise in emissions in 2018. This is a rise we do not want to see, and is cause for concern.

According to Rohdium Group’s recent analysis, this rise is due, in part, to natural gas – rather than renewable energy and energy efficiency – replacing coal-fired power plants, and growth in the transportation sector. According to the study, buildings and industry had the biggest increases, with emissions from each sector rising by about 55 million metric tons. In the northeast, buildings account for a significant portion of GHG emissions (31.3 percent in 2016) due to thermal inefficiency and the use of fossil fuels for heating and cooling. With winters getting colder and the frequency of more extreme weather, winter peak is a growing concern.

So what is our New Year’s resolution going to be? I’d say let’s vow to get those emissions back down! With state legislative sessions in full swing, now is the time to do so.

We are already seeing some champions tackling this dilemma. The District of Columbia passed a landmark bill at the end of 2018, the Cleanenergy DC Omnibus Amendment Act Of 2018. In order to address the efficiency of the built environment in the District of Columbia, the Council established a first-of-its-kind building energy performance standard. Beginning January 1, 2021, all privately-owned buildings with at least 50,000 square feet and all District-owned or District instrumentality-owned buildings with at least 10,000 square feet will be required to comply with the standard. From there, in 2023, buildings of 25,000 square, and by 2026, buildings of 10,000 square will be required to comply.

The intention of this standard is to help the District achieve its short- and long-term climate commitments, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2032 and carbon neutrality by 2050. One aspect of this bill that stands out is that it addresses the wide range of building uses, such as college campuses and hospitals, where building requirements and operations will have an impact on compliance with the standard. It also recognizes historic buildings and any potential restrictions to the treatment of historic sites. Since the District has been benchmarking building energy use, implementing this standard is a lot easier because there is an understanding of how much energy buildings in the city are currently using.

The bill also requires public transportation and privately-owned fleet vehicles emit zero carbon dioxide by 2045 and mandates 100 percent renewable electricity in the Capital by 2032.

New York City is following suit. Councilman Constantinides introduced a bill that would establish the Office of Building Energy Performance as well as greenhouse gas emissions limits for existing buildings. This bill would also expand existing retro-commissioning requirements to certain buildings over 25,000 square feet. The bill establishes building emissions limits through 2029 and plans to establish limits up to and after 2050. This will help the state achieve its 80 percent carbon reduction requirement by 2050. To lead by example, the proposed requirements include city-owned, not limiting to 25,000 square feet. In a large city like NYC, buildings are the greatest GHG emitters, therefore establishing such a standard targets emissions right at the source and creates a timeline for achieving carbon reduction goals.

Another exciting development in the Mid-Atlantic comes from the Keystone state. Pennsylvania Governor Wolf signed an executive order establishing carbon reduction goals of 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050, along with establishing a GreenGov Council to help implement the order. Other goals in the order include:

  • Reduce overall energy consumption by three percent per year, and 21 percent by 2025, as compared to 2017 levels;
  • Replace 25 percent of the state passenger car fleet with battery electric and plug-in electric hybrid cars by 2025;
  • Procure renewable energy to offset at least 40 percent of the commonwealth’s annual electricity use.

From city to state developments, we are already starting 2019 off with clear climate initiative. As we take on the last year before we start a new decade in 2020 – the year many states have their first carbon reduction requirement – it is clear that allowing carbon emissions to rise is not in the cards for the NEEP region. This is a New Year’s resolution I am happy to get behind.

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