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Waxman-Markey Will Mandate Greener Building and Drive Green Renovation

09/08/2009 05:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill could take an important step toward becoming law by the end of the week. At the heart of the bill is a plan to create a cap-and-trade system that would limit--and put a price tag on--greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions cuts would be gradual and increasing, starting with a cut of three percent in 2012, and a target of 80 percent lower emissions by 2050.

Opposition rhetoric to the Waxman-Markey bill has grown increasingly shrill of late. Republican House leader John Boehner released a memo Tuesday stating that passage of the bill would devastate the economy by "crippling small businesses," sending millions of jobs overseas, and raising energy costs. On the other side of the aisle, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote on the bill for Friday. Both seem to indicate that the fight is over, with Republicans posturing in the face of defeat and Democrats eager to get the bill passed.

As noted in a Washington Post editorial, Waxman-Markey will, in effect, create a federal building code, a drastic step given that states and municipalities have previously been able to set their own building standards. These new federal regulations would require that new buildings be 30 percent more efficient by 2012 and 50 percent more efficient by 2016. Although mandating such dramatic improvements so quickly may seem draconian, the technology needed to create that efficiency already exists. Building "green" costs about the same as traditional building methods, and may even prove cheaper over the life of a building due to lower energy costs.

The Post editorial also notes that the most egregious energy-wasters, old homes and buildings, "wouldn't necessarily be touched by the new code," but this isn't really the case. It's true that Waxman-Markey doesn't require efficiency upgrades for existing structures, but it does offer financial support for home and building owners who make efficiency improvements. The new code stands to render inefficient and environmentally hazardous building materials obsolete, making renovation projects greener than they would have been. Other provisions of the bill include setting new standards for lighting products, heating ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, and other household appliances.

As energy-efficient buildings slowly become the norm, owners of older homes and other "dated" structures will be faced with an important decision: use green renovation techniques and technology to upgrade, or struggle to keep up with increasing energy prices and plummeting property values.

With the vote scheduled for Friday, it would be great if either the GOP or the Dems realized that the federal government is about to take a huge stake in local building codes. Whether they know it or not, Congress seems poised to move green building and green renovation practices squarely into the mainstream.