President Trump has tried to paint his presumptive Democratic presidential challenger as a radical environmentalist, including with a dark warning last week that under former Vice President Joe Biden, there would be "no windows" across the United States.
But the comments are prompting sharp criticism from advocates who say there’s no truth to his assertion when it comes to energy-efficient buildings.
Trump made the remarks during a White House news conference, saying Biden’s efficiency policies would prompt eye problems and lead to sweaty workers in the summer and cold employees in the winter (Energywire, July 15).
"That means no windows, no nothing. It’s very hard to do … tell people when they want to go into some of these buildings, ‘How are your eyes? Because they won’t be good in five years. And I hope you don’t mind cold office space in the winter and warm office space in the summer, because your air conditioning is not the same as the good old days,’" Trump said.
The White House offered no further comment.
Biden’s energy plan does embrace a call for legislation to develop net-zero emissions standards for all new commercial buildings by 2030. A proposal released by a task force organized by Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who in April became the last Biden competitor to drop out of the Democratic presidential primary, recommends what it calls a "bold, national goal" to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030.
But net-zero-emissions buildings, which produce as much energy as they use or more, include windows. Often lots of them.
"We have hundreds and hundreds of examples of well-designed, well-functioning zero-carbon-generating buildings in the U.S. now," said Jennifer Amann, buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "And they all have windows."
Green building advocates note Trump would not have to leave Washington to see an example of the type of building Biden’s plan endorses. The American Geophysical Union is retrofitting its 1994 building less than 2 miles from the White House, and the net-zero renovation boosted the number of windows in the building.
"We actually added more windows so that we could get more light into the lobby," said Janice Lachance, the group’s executive vice president for strategic leadership and global outreach. Because the building is located in the middle of a city, it was limited in how much energy the building could generate and is using 17 different strategies, including solar panels, to help it meet its goal, she said.
That includes the building’s windows, which automatically block glare and heat but still provide natural light.
Trump charged Friday at an additional White House event that the focus on zero-emissions buildings would end up "skyrocketing the cost of construction." Lachance agreed that initial estimates showed a "regular renovation" would have run about 10% to 15% less, but she said the organization expects energy savings to make up the difference.
The energy used to build and operate buildings accounted for nearly 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, according to the latest United Nations Environment Programme report, making buildings a focus of climate advocates.
And windows — treated to filter out heat but not light — tend to play a leading role, said Victoria Burrows, director of Advancing Net Zero, a project by the World Green Building Council aimed at seeing that all buildings are net-zero carbon by 2050.
"Affordable housing in Hawaii, mosques in Jordan, entire precincts in Sydney, they’re all over the world, in all kinds of climates and all different building types," Burrows said of net-zero-carbon buildings.
De Blasio and lightbulbs
Trump’s recent remarks are not the first time he’s accused Democrats of looking to ban windows. At a May 2019 rally in Montoursville, Pa., he accused Democrats of looking to "knock down all buildings in Manhattan and rebuild them without windows, you know about that? Let’s rebuild them, glass is no good."
His inspiration appeared to be New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who at an Earth Day 2019 event said his plan for sustainable buildings would mean banning "glass and steel skyscrapers."
De Blasio at the same event promoted several glass-wrapped buildings that are energy efficient, and the director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability sought to clear up de Blasio’s remarks, telling The New York Times last year that de Blasio’s plan "doesn’t mean that buildings can’t use glass anymore."
The windows slugfest is occurring as polls show Trump trailing Biden nationally and in key battleground states. Trump has made it increasingly clear that he sees his embrace of fossil fuels and push to roll back regulations on everything from dishwashers to pipelines as a boost to his reelection chances.
On Friday, the president celebrated what he said was the erasure of "nearly 25,000 pages of job-destroying regulations," saying his administration’s work on energy efficiency measures will ensure that dishwashers "have a lot more water."
He also cheered his decision to keep traditional incandescent lightbulbs on the shelves, saying they’re "selling like hotcakes" because they’re "better and much cheaper" than their energy-efficient replacements.
"The hard left wants to reverse these extraordinary gains and reimpose these disastrous regulations," Trump said.
Trump’s Department of Energy, however, notes on its website that new light-emitting diodes "last longer, are more durable, and offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting."
With the coronavirus pandemic and delays in market figures, it’s unclear how the lightbulb regulation is affecting sales. Environmentalists say Trump is likely off the mark when he says the older-style bulbs are selling rapidly.
"The bulbs that are selling like hotcakes are the LEDs," said Noah Horowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards. He noted that the market share for the energy-efficient bulbs — which use 85% less power and last 10 times longer — has tripled over the past five years, from 19% in 2015 to 60% in 2019, according to the latest figures that are available.