The newly proposed rules, if finalized, would require that all new or renovated government buildings are green by design, siting, and construction. Once completed, these green federal buildings will be a blueprint for others to follow in terms of improved energy efficiency, reduced use of water, and decreased impact on the local environment.
The proposal would also require the installation of on-site renewable energy generation and of solar hot water heaters by the government whenever cost effective over the life of the building, would set a minimum level of daylight in work areas, and establish indoor air quality requirements to protect the health of the public, government employees, and families living in government buildings such as military bases. The proposed standards would apply to new and renovated federal buildings, such as post offices, courthouses, army bases, social security buildings, and other facilities located throughout the country.
"We're pleased to see the Department of Energy be a leader by taking a first step toward a full energy efficiency overhaul that our buildings and communities need urgently," said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse. "Environmentally sound upgrades for buildings must go hand in hand with energy efficiency improvements, and it is time for DOE to complete all of the common-sense energy standards necessary to finally move our government buildings into the 21st century."
The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the United States and has buildings all across the country. In a typical year, federal buildings consume nearly 40 percent of all energy used by the government and represent five percent of all commercial buildings' energy consumption in the United States. In 2008, the federal government spent $7 billion to purchase energy for federal buildings, out of a total of $24.5 billion on overall energy costs.
Efficiency upgrades to a single building have the potential both to cut energy use and save tens of thousands of dollars. For example, some green government buildings have achieved energy cost savings greater than 40 percent and water consumption savings greater than 54 percent, as compared to the average office building.
"It is encouraging to residents of the Metro Washington area see DOE move forward with new sustainable building standards. We still need urgent action on all of the energy efficiency standards, because having the federal government stop wasting energy will mean cleaner air and cheaper energy bills for everyone in this region and other parts of the country with a strong federal presence," said Chris Weiss, director of the D.C. Environmental Network.
This proposal makes progress on some requirements established by Congress in recent years to make federal buildings more energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable that the prior administration failed to address. These standards also support the goals of the Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance issued by President Barack Obama last fall.
"The Energy Department's proposal begins an important process of updating our public buildings to protect the environment and advance the green building economy," said Gloria Smith of Sierra Club. "There is no time to waste to take care of these proposals and also fulfill each of the important energy reduction requirements on the government's to-do list for buildings."
DOE stated in the proposal that it will address a host of other important energy efficiency standards that are required by law in separate rulemakings. For example, still remaining are standards to bring existing government buildings up to the level of the latest industry standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the International Code Council, as well as new standards to reduce new buildings' use of fossil fuel-generated energy to achieve the required 100 percent reduction from 2003 levels by the year 2030. DOE also is required to create an Internet-based tracking system for the public to monitor the progress of federal agencies in achieving energy and water use reduction goals for existing federal buildings.
"The environmental and health benefits of today's proposals are a step forward, but we also need to fully update the energy efficiency of our nation's buildings," said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen. "We look to this administration to complete these rules and all other overdue requirements on energy efficiency for federal buildings this year."
The U.S. Department of Energy requests public comment on the proposed rules within 60 days.
For more information about Earthjustice's campaign for energy efficiency, visit: http://www.earthjustice.org/energyefficiency/