Sunday, December 30, 2007

Making 80% of your progress on 20% of your problems

As I look towards 2008, I have been reflecting on the importance of the green building movement--where are we, where are we going. There is no question that buildings contribute to environmental damage--the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that up to 48 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change are a result of building construction and maintenance projects. In addition, there has obviously been a lot of growth in the Green Building sector--for example, the GreenBuild conference in Chicago had 18,000 attendees, up from 4,200 just five years ago, and some estimates put the growth of LEED-registered and LEED-certified green building projects at rates approaching 70-80% year-over-year. A new study from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) found that since 2003, the number of American cities with green building programs has increased more than 400%.

However, public transit cuts in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and others threaten to break down essential components of sustainable development. As recently as November, the Bush administration reiterated its opposition to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, saying that it would damage the U.S. economy. Energy bills at the state and federal levels failed to implement real changes to our energy consumption infrastructure.

Based on the theory, therefore, that you make 80% of your progress on 20% of your problems, I recommend the following areas of focus for the coming year:

1. Integration of green building standards into municipal codes--As I have stated on the blog before, I believe that green building practices need to be like requirements for fire safety--an integral part of the regulaiton that municpalities provide. The completion of the ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA Standard 189 code project will hopefully provide a set of materials which can be easily integrated into municipal codes.

2. National leadership on public transportation--Without steady and reliable sources of funding and commitment to public transportation, building and growing sustainable development will be very difficult. National figures, including the presidential candidates, need to provide clear, coherent and strong leadership on this issue in the coming year.

3. Acceptance of international climate change protocols--The environment is a global issue which requires a global agenda. The United States needs not just to join, but to lead the world in pursuing an environmental agenda.

Here's to a Happy and Green New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tom Freidman--Is anyone listening?

Tom Freidman's column in today's NY Times is entitled "It's Too Late For Later"-- Based on the Energy bills passed this week (see my previous post), our government is not listening.

Does anyone wonder--What are we still doing passing marginal energy bills?

There have been two energy bills passed last Thursday which have caught my attention. First, of course, is the Senate Energy Bill which passed 86-8 (see the nice summary article in Forbes here, and the Senate of my home state of Pennsylvania passed its version of Governor Ed Rendell's Energy Bill 44-5 (Philadelphia Inquirer article here What is notable about both of these bills is that 1) they are extremely watered down versions of the original energy bills proposed, 2) they required the votes of both Democrats and Republicans to pass, and 3) it happened at both the state and federal levels.

The U.S. Senate bill eliminated the extension of existing production and investment incentives for wind and solar power, dropped the tax increases on Big Oil, and dropped the renewable electricity mandate. The only notable remaining provisions was an increase in biofuel production and increased CAFE limits. In short, the bill became less of a comprehensive reexamination of our energy sources and demands, and more about making nibbling changes at the edges.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Ed Rendell had originally proposed a bill which included an $850 million Energy Independence Fund, among other provisions. The bill which passed the Senate provided only $250 million, and provided $25 million subsidy to help utilities comply with mercury regulations. It provides only $5 million for consumer energy efficiency assistance.

What the US and Pennsylvania Energy Bills demonstrate is a remarkable lack of political will. I would have hoped that after the war in Iraq, a scientific onslaught of global warming evidence, higher gas prices, a Democratic Congress, increased awareness of environmental and energy issues and a ridiculously low presidential approval rating that the lawmakers would have the political will to make real change on energy issues. But apparently the time has not yet come.


Please excuse the one month absence from the blog. My husband had surgery and I am pregnant (not to mention a full-time lawyer), so the blog had to take a backseat. I hope to be posting with more regularity over the next few months, but the blog will go on hiatus from May (ish) through August next summer for maternity leave.

All my best for a happy and green holiday season and new year.