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A Caucus for High-Performance Buildings

Published: Jul 27, 2012 Policy | Blog Post

There are literally hundreds of caucuses registered with the U.S. House of Representatives. Some are well known to the public, like the Congressional Black Caucus or the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But there are also many caucuses that you probably haven’t heard about in the news, like the Congressional Caribbean Caucus or the Congressional Caucus on Lumber.

One of those is the High-Performance Building Congressional Caucus (HPBCC). Formed in part as a response to the 2005 and 2007 energy acts aimed at building a greener workforce, the HPBCC is a bipartisan group co-chaired by Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and Judy Biggert (R-Ill.). It includes 25 other members of the House, both Democrats and Republicans.

As it states on its website, the caucus (and its coalition) was formed to “heighten awareness and inform policymakers about the major impact buildings have on our health, safety, and welfare and the opportunities to design, construct and operate high-performance buildings that reflect our concern for these impacts.” Among several fundamental concerns, the caucus supports creating new building technologies, increasing economic competitiveness, increasing energy efficiency, and assuring buildings have minimal climate change impacts.

So why are high-performance buildings important? Let’s consider this: Americans spend 90 percent of their time in offices, schools, homes, stores, and various other buildings, which account for 40 percent of our country’s energy usage (not to mention 39 percent of carbon emissions) every year. Those are big numbers, and yet many Americans take buildings for granted and don’t often think about how much energy they use and the impact they have on us and our immediate environments.

This makes it vital that high-performance buildings have a voice in the policy arena, especially at a time when energy-efficiency bills that have vast potential are being placed on the table for lawmakers, bills like the SAVE Act and the Shaheen-Portman Act.

“Ensuring that new buildings are efficient, and doing the best we possibly can to retrofit existing buildings, will not only help save families and businesses money, but will relieve some of the energy and water burden faced by our nation,” said Congressman Russ Carnahan. “Energy and water will be the next major commodities that define where we live, what we do, and how we build our societies. We can make America a leader in efficient resource use, and buildings can play a major role. That is my goal as a co-chair of the High Performance Building Caucus.”

The HPBCC is directly supported by a private sector coalition, the High-Performance Building Congressional Caucus Coaltion (HPBCCC), led by ASHRAE. With a membership of well over 100 private organizations (including IMT), it provides guidance and support for policymakers in the caucus while working to promote best practices in building design and addressing overarching environmental, economic, health, and societal issues pertaining to the built environment.

“The goal was to reflect the definition of high-performance buildings as defined legislatively by EISA 2007,” said Doug Read, Director of Government Affairs at ASHRAE. “The caucus and the coalition were formed because Congress did not have clear expert resources ... or mechanisms of information exchange that would enable them to make educated decisions based on the best science, technology, or practices.”

The formation of the American High Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC) has recently made some headlines. Although its name is similar to the HPBCCC, the difference between the AHPBC and the HPBCCC is broad. The HPBCCC is not an advocacy group (unlike the AHPBC) and does not lobby. It has organized over 50 Hill briefings (listed at www.hpbccc.org) for the singular purpose of educating Hill staff on HPB concepts.

In terms of reports and research, it’s loosely linked with initiatives of the National Institute of Building Sciences, such as the High Performance Building Council, and  the NIBS Consultative Council--both of which develop reports to Congress and the President. “The HPBCCC promotes the existence of these reports as well as any other reports or informational items members of our coalition wish to distribute,” said Read.  

As a member of the coalition, IMT stands with the HPBCC as it continues to usher efficiency into the Capitol Hill spotlight it deserves.

To find out more about the HPBCC, visit http://hpbccc.org.