By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting
With public opinion about Congress at an all-time low, it’s interesting to see what our legislators are up to. When an earmark bill includes $1.8 million to study why pigs smell, it’s no wonder why the average American feels like Congress is out of touch and dysfunctional. But there are some rays of hope with certain pending bills that could actually help the construction industry.
One such bill was recently introduced by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) – “the Energy-Efficient Cool Roofs Job Act”. Senator Cardin is a member of the Senate Committees on Finance and Environment & Public Works. His bill affects retrofitting of commercial roofs with specific types of cool roofs. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Dean Heller (R-NV). The 6-page legislation has received support from both parties, and from industry. Senator Cardin also filed the bill as an amendment (S. Amdt.3186) to the EXPIRE Act (S.2260). To complete the process, a companion bill was introduced in the House (H.R. 4740).
The basis of the legislation is a change and simplification to the tax code to reduce the depreciation schedule to 20 years for the installation of certain non-residential cool roofs. The current depreciation for non-residential property is 39 years. For many types of roofs, the average lifespan is just 17 years. For building owners with these types of roofs, they may choose to do repair work rather than a full replacement prior to the 39-year mark. Studies are finding that with metal roofing, the useful service life can be greater than 60 years. But with any type of roof system, a reduction in the depreciation schedule would be good news for building owners who no longer would have to wait to re-roof or replace the roof. This has a positive impact on the roofing industry, construction in general, and has been estimated to potentially create 40,000 jobs, according to the NRCA. By requiring cool roofing, there would be energy savings, and an estimated reduction of 800,000 metric tons of carbon emissions.
The qualified cool roof systems are those defined as:
- installed over conditioned space,
- slope of 2:12 or less,
- replacing an existing system,
- insulation levels that complies with ASHRAE 189.1-2011,
- located in climate zones 1,2,3,4,or 5,
- cool roof requirements:
- minimum solar reflectance
- three-year minimum aged solar reflectance of 0.55 (per CRRC-1)
- minimum thermal emittance
- three-year minimum aged thermal emittance of 0.75 (per CRRC-1)
- OPTIONAL Solar Reflectance Index (SRI)
- §or 3-year aged minimum SRI of 64
The bill is pending.
Another encouraging piece of legislation is a comprehensive Energy bill that has been introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). The bill, often referred to as the Shaheen-Portman Bill, is actually titled the “ Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act”. The bill received strong support from a coalition of more than 200 businesses, trade associations, and advocacy groups. The bill was poised for a vote several times, only to be postponed for a number of reasons. The legislation is designed to improve energy efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial and industrial construction sectors of our economy.
In the building arena, the bill has provisions for strengthening the building codes for more energy efficiency and transparency, encourages private investment in building efficiency upgrades by creating a Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Financing Initiative, and establishes a training program for the next generation of building designers and installers. In the manufacturing sector, the bill establishes SupplySTAR, a DOE program described to make manufacturers’ supply chains more efficient. And in the Federal Government sector, provisions are defined for energy savings, and building efficiency standards. In fact, the American High Performance Buildings Coalition also succeeded in placing language in the bill that called for consensus based green building rating programs for public buildings.
Sadly, even with the strong bi-partisan support and industry support, even this bill got bogged down by mid-year election politics and posturing. In May of 2014 the Senate officially presided over the debate of the Shaheen-Portman bill. Republican Senators, some of which who had supported the bill, introduced last-minute amendments related to the Keystone XL pipeline and EPA regulations, which caused the process to grind to a halt. As a result, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to move ahead on the popular efficiency bill.
According to Washington insiders, Democrats had offered Republicans the vote on Keystone XL as long as the Shaheen-Portman bill passed. Republicans, however, tried to attach amendments related to Keystone XL to the bill. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid then blocked the amendments which resulted in the vote that fell short.
This is not the first time that the bill stalled because of disagreements over amendments. Last September the bill failed after debate over amendments related to Obamacare and Keystone XL. The co-sponsor, Jeanne Shaheen, said, “It’s a sad day in the U.S. Senate when more than 270 organizations — from business to environmental groups — can get behind a good, bipartisan effort, but we can’t get votes on a few amendments to pass it. “ The future of the bill is uncertain, but the co-sponsors have said that they were not giving up on the energy efficiency legislation.
So the gears of Washington continue to turn, grind, and sometimes lock-up. Perhaps the low approval ratings for the federal government in general are in fact justified.