A 21st century energy policy requires both producing cleaner energy from renewable sources and using the energy we do consume more efficiently. According to the Energy Information Administration, residential buildings account for 21 percent of our nation’s total energy expenditures. Only the transportation and industrial sectors consume more energy than what we use to heat and cool our homes, run our appliances, and keep the lights on.
That’s why last month I introduced H.R 8021, the Green Neighborhoods Act of 2020 to encourage greater energy efficiency and sustainability in the nation’s housing supply while creating new jobs in the green economy. This legislation would create incentives for new energy efficient housing and retrofits, incorporate energy efficiency in mortgage underwriting, improve utility benchmarking, help develop a skilled workforce for green jobs, and more. At a time when it’s needed most, this bill is a win-win-win for families, workers and the environment.
Green Neighborhoods would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to implement energy efficiency standards and incentives for new and existing housing. Specifically, new single family or multifamily residences, existing single family or multifamily structures, and nonresidential structures would be eligible for two levels of incentives based on their ability to meet basic or enhanced energy efficiency standards. By using incentives rather than mandates, we will make utilities in HUD-assisted housing more affordable without driving up the cost of rent for families.
The legislation also includes the SAVE Act which enjoys broad bipartisan support and ensures energy cost savings from efficient homes are accounted for in the underwriting process for federally backed mortgages. The cost of utilities rose significantly over the last few decades, and factoring in the energy costs and energy efficient improvements into the underwriting process will improve the buying power of consumers of energy efficient homes, and also make the mortgage market more secure by providing a more complete picture of a borrower’s expected costs of homeownership. The lack of utility and energy efficiency data is currently a blind spot in the underwriting process.
The Green Neighborhoods Act will require new data detailing the current state of energy and water usage in the multifamily property sector as well as estimates of potential energy and cost savings of energy efficiency programs implemented at HUD-assisted properties. The legislation would also require HUD to collect and analyze utility benchmarking data from HUD-assisted properties and develop energy savings targets. HUD spends an estimated $6.4 billion on energy usage annually. By understanding best practices and meeting realistic goals, we can improve energy usage across HUD-assisted properties, potentially saving the agency and taxpayers billions over the long-run.
As we take these steps to improve energy efficiency in housing, we also need to make sure we have a skilled workforce of green jobs in communities across the country. This legislation establishes a workforce development grant program to train employees through apprenticeship programs in energy efficient retrofits, construction, deconstruction, building maintenance and management, and manufacturing of sustainable processes and materials. Recipients of these grants would be required to make employment opportunities publicly available and to advertise openings to dislocated workers. As our communities recover from the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, we can get America back to work by investing in energy independence and a sustainable future.
In 2008, I introduced similar legislation as chair of the Financial Services Committee Energy Efficiency Task Force. The effort focused on incorporating energy efficiency into the financial services sector. The GREEN (Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods) Act passed the full House of Representatives twice, but unfortunately never became law. It’s time to finally get these policies across the finish line.
We are all seeing firsthand the dangers of climate change. The ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at record pace; hurricanes are battering the Gulf Coast, and wildfires are uprooting hundreds of thousands in the West — including in my home state of Colorado. Climate change must be addressed immediately and comprehensively — the Green Neighborhoods Act helps in this effort.
This bill encourages the development of greener, more sustainable neighborhoods and communities while creating new jobs in the green economy, unleashing technological innovation, and strengthening our energy independence. By prioritizing energy conservation and sustainable development, we can make energy efficiency practices more affordable and accessible and create new opportunities for workers.