Biden using building codes against inflation, climate change

By Nico Portuondo | 06/01/2022 01:18 PM EDT

President Biden

President Joe Biden met yesterday with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the White House. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Joe Biden announced an initiative today to strengthen adherence to disaster resilience and energy efficiency building codes as the White House looks to address climate change while also mitigate a summer of skyrocketing energy prices.

A new “National Initiative to Advance Building Codes” will advance a governmentwide strategy to compel federal agencies to better ensure America’s buildings follow modern codes approved by Biden’s National Climate Task Force.

Those codes, in part, attempt to ensure homes and other buildings can better withstand natural disasters that are becoming more powerful and common because of climate change.

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“The latest, current building codes and standards, [will enable] communities to be more resilient to hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and other extreme weather events that are intensifying due to climate change,” the White House said in a press release today.

The push also looks to improve adherence to energy efficiency standards at American homes and buildings, which will will center around a $225 million initiative from the Department of Energy.

That funding stems from provisions long pushed by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (E&E Daily, Aug. 10, 2021).

Today’s announcement is part of a flurry of steps the White House is taking to address energy inflation while also focusing on climate change. Voter anger about energy prices is likely to help Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections, and advocates worry the political environment may trump climate action (E&E Daily, June 1).

Biden penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this week detailing his plan to fight the high energy prices through planned oil reserve releases and recommending that Congress pass clean energy tax credits.

“A dozen CEOs of America’s largest utility companies told me earlier this year that my plan would reduce the average family’s annual utility bills by $500 and accelerate our transition from energy produced by autocrats,” wrote Biden, who met yesterday with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on inflation.

Also yesterday, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese argued during the White House press briefing that inflation would begin to slow down but that job growth would also decline.

Deese stressed the need for congressional action on tax incentives in the Democrats’ budget reconciliation effort. He also spoke about lawmakers addressing the semiconductor supply chain bottleneck.

“Now we’ve made historic progress notwithstanding that, but we could use Congress moving to provide the resources and the funding and the authorities that are in the bipartisan innovation bill that is now in conference,” said Deese.

Energy advocates said the White House initiative’s whole-of-government approach was a positive step toward broad implementation of efficiency and climate-resilient building codes. Several federal agencies— including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Department of Housing and Urban Development— are listed in the effort.

But those agencies need to follow through, activists said.

“They’re right to look at every tool they have to ensure new homes don’t leave residents paying for needless energy waste,” said Lowell Ungar, director of federal policy at American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “HUD, USDA, and VA are many years behind on updating efficiency criteria for the many homes they support, so they do need to step up now.”

The announcement comes on the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, with another unusually active year predicted by forecasters. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Deputy National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi discussed the initiative at the National Hurricane Center in Miami earlier today.

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