By Corey Lee Wilson
Changes are underway with the new administration – how will they impact you? President Trump’s agenda places several programs that have helped FMs in danger of being eliminated. Their survival depends heavily on the ability or willingness to push some key parts of his agenda through Congress.
After the unprecedented electoral victory of Donald Trump, the political climate in the U.S. has been in a state of flux. As the president fills in cabinet and department positions, enacts his agenda and navigates the tumultuous waters of the current political climate, the commercial building industry awaits Washington’s concrete actions and their wide-ranging impacts.
With Republicans holding both houses of Congress and the White House, budget cuts, tax cuts and deregulation are likely on the way. While some of these actions might help businesses, these actions will also have consequences for the buildings industry in the coming weeks, months and years. How will the current political situation affect you?
Information Sharing for Energy Efficiency
The Michigan State University had a plan to boost its energy efficiency across the board but was in need of more information and strategies to enact changes across its portfolio of academic buildings, science facilities, parking ramps and athletic facilities. The Department of Energy’s voluntary energy program, the Better Buildings Challenge, provided these vital resources, even though it did not offer any financial incentives.
“We have saved close to $10 million over the past few years by installing energy-efficient measures across campus. We have reduced the energy footprint by 13% in the 20 million square feet included in the program,” says Lynda Boomer, Director of Planning Design and Construction at MSU.
Learning from similar universities that had undergone comparable projects, MSU found success in its energy-saving initiative. The information sharing partnership of the Better Buildings Challenge helped MSU enact HVAC upgrades, chiller replacements and insulation improvements for optimal efficiency.
Through the Better Buildings Challenge, partners commit to improve the energy use of their building portfolios by at least 20% within 10 years and lead the way in a network for peer-to-peer collaboration,” says Maria Vargas, Director of the Better Buildings Challenge. “By showing how energy efficiency has been successfully adopted – and the barriers addressed and overcome – these partners are examples for others across a myriad of building types and locations.”
Since joining the initiative, MSU has been able to achieve considerable savings in its facilities, and the program has been successful across the board in reducing energy usage in buildings.
“MSU became aware of the Better Buildings Challenge and Alliance through involvement in the International Institute for Safe Laboratories (I2SL). We had just completed the energy transition plan and were already on the path to reducing energy use on campus and becoming more efficient, so it was a good fit to join the Better Buildings Challenge,” says Boomer. “While they did not provide any financial aid, the program gave MSU an opportunity to network with other universities and suppliers that could provide ideas and opportunities for energy saving projects.”
In practice, the Better Buildings Challenge has been successful in helping participants reach that 20% goal. “Partners have saved 240 trillion BTUs in energy consumption, $1.9 billion in cost savings, 15 million tons in avoided carbon emissions, $8.6 billion in funds extended by financial allies partnering with DOE and 4 billion gallons in water savings,” says Vargas.
Initiatives that the voluntary Better Buildings Challenge has started include the Financing Navigator to help people find financing options, greater focus and research on data center energy use, water efficiency pledges that save both water and energy, and the SWAP, a reality TV-inspired web series in which property managers from two organizations look for savings opportunities in each other’s buildings.
The voluntary nature of the project allows organizations to earn recognition and share energy information with other participants, which can provide the spark for worthwhile changes. However, the future of the Better Buildings Challenge is in jeopardy due to a recent executive order and the future federal budget.
The Trump Administration Trajectory
President Trump has targeted several Obama-era policies that directly relate to the buildings industry through executive actions and legislative proposals. One needs to look no further than the Better Buildings Challenge, which former President Obama introduced in his 2011 State of the Union address as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In his 2013 Climate Action Plan, Obama’s agenda included expanding the Better Buildings Challenge.
However, the Trump administration has taken aim at Obama’s Climate Action Plan with the Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, identifying goals of striking down energy-related regulations that executive departments have mandated in the past. This executive order could threaten the future of the Better Buildings Challenge, although it is not yet clear how or to what extent.
Executive orders have some historical precedent of being more symbolic, guiding the vision and overall policy of a presidency. Whether or not this particular executive order will on its own largely impact Obama’s Climate Action Plan is unclear at this point. But what an executive order may or may not be able to accomplish can be done so through legislation.
The budget proposal Trump will expand and hopes to usher through Congress provides more concrete plans for cuts within several departments that house energy efficiency programs. While this budget proposal will undoubtedly undergo major changes to placate the many factions of the House, the original budget presented provides insight into the trajectory this administration would like to follow as far as federal funding goes.
Two of the most important departments to look at with the budget proposal are the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, both of which would face cuts in 2018.
The DOE’s proposed cuts seem small compared to other departments with 6% or $1.7 billion in cuts having been proposed to its 2017 allocation. However, under this prospective budget, the National Nuclear Security Administration would receive a $1.4 billion boost, meaning cuts to other programs in the department – ones that might impact building operators – compound under this budget.
One of the hardest-hit agencies under the proposed budget cuts is the EPA; the agency’s overall budget would shrink by 31% or $2.6 billion. Stating a desire to cut back on regulations that hinder businesses, the president set his sights on cutting one particular program in the EPA: ENERGY STAR Overall Company Goals And Energy Policies.
California Plan Seeks to Make Water Conservation a Way of Life
Working to make water conservation a way of life, State agencies today released a draft plan for achieving long-term efficient water use and meeting drought preparedness goals that reflect California’s diverse climate, landscape, and demographic conditions.
“Californians rose to the challenge during this historic drought and recognized that conservation is critical in the face of an uncertain future. This plan is about harnessing the creativity and innovation that Californians have shown during the driest years in state history and making water conservation a way of life in the years ahead,” said California Department of Water Resources Director Mark W. Cowin. “This plan will help make permanent changes to water use so California is better prepared for whatever the future brings.”
The new plan’s fundamental premise is that efficient water use helps all of California better prepare for longer and more severe droughts caused by climate change.
California recently suffered the driest four years in state history, with only average rainfall last year, and 75 percent of the state remains in severe drought conditions. Meanwhile, a new report from UCLA projects that the Sierra Nevada snowpack — one of California’s largest sources of water supply—is likely to drop 50 percent by the end of the century due to climate change. Recognizing these risks and many others, today’s plan seeks permanent changes to water use that boost efficiency and prepare for more limited water supplies. These practices will help achieve a top priority in the Governor’s Water Action Plan – to “Make Conservation a California Way of Life.”
Today’s plan builds on the success of mandatory water restrictions during California’s severe drought and develops long-term water conservation measures that will ensure all communities have sufficient water supplies. This will involve activities such as ensuring farmers plan and prepare for severe drought and permanently banning wasteful practices like hosing off sidewalks and driveways.
“The last few years provided the wake-up call of all wake-up calls that water is precious and not to be taken for granted,” said Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. “Californians rose to the occasion collectively during the drought. We can build on that success and now prepare for a more unpredictable and disruptive future marked by a changing climate – and do it equitably and cost effectively.”
Today’s plan represents a shift from statewide mandates to a set of conservation standards applied based on local circumstances, including population, temperature, leaks, and types of commercial and industrial use. For example, communities in hotter and drier climate zones will receive irrigation allowances that reflect evaporation levels.
Key Water Conservation Measures Proposed for California
The proposed Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board measures include:
- Permanent bans on wasteful practices, such as hosing driveways and excessively watering lawns.
- Technical assistance and financial incentives for water suppliers to implement leak prevention, detection, and repair programs.
- Collecting information about innovative water conservation and water loss detection and control technologies.
- Requiring agricultural water suppliers to quantify water use in their service areas and describe measures to increase water use efficiency.
- Full compliance with water use targets for urban water suppliers by 2025.
- Planning and preparing for continued and future drought and water shortages.
Some of the actions described in the draft plan will require working with the Legislature on new and expanded State authority, while others can be implemented under existing authorities. All recommendations aim to achieve the main objectives of the Governor’s Executive Order B-3716: use water more wisely, eliminate water waste, strengthen local drought resilience, and improve agricultural water use efficiency and drought planning.
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