By Alexandra Straub
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
As we reflect on the accomplishments of our personal lives over the last year, let’s also revisit energy efficiency’s year, which, by the way, was pretty busy.
Energy Efficiency’s Doppelganger Took Center-Stage
Enter ‘energy productivity.’ Technically, it has been around all along, but energy productivity rose to acclaim thanks to political advocacy by the Alliance and groups around the nation. We began to pay attention to the economic jump-starter that it can be—because who doesn’t want to get twice as much GDP for each national energy “dollar?”
It’s the foundation of Energy 2030, a set of landmark policy recommendations introduced this year by the Alliance Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy that would double the nation’s energy productivity by 2030. And it also became a goal for the president when he challenged the country to “cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years” during the State of the Union, included doubling energy productivity as a key strategy in his Climate Action Plan, and when he announced the energy efficiency Race to the Top challenge for states in his 2014 budget (an Energy 2030 recommendation).
But it didn’t stop there.
Energy Efficiency Was Made a Game-Winning Strategy
The Administration embraced energy efficiency throughout the year by:
- Featuring energy efficiency prominently in the President’s Climate Action Plan, which details establishing power plant carbon standards, building a 21st-century transportation sector, reducing energy bills for families and businesses, investing in RD&D, reducing emissions, modernizing the grid, and more.
- Expanding the Better Buildings Challenge to include multifamily housing, and incorporate new accelerator programs for building data, performance contracting, and energy performance certification.
- Pledging that federal agencies will continue to expand their use of energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), to increase efficiency in federal buildings at no cost to taxpayers.
- And by launching the Energy Efficiency and Loan Conservation Program, providing $250 million for energy efficiency retrofitting projects in rural communities.
We also gained two staunch energy efficiency champions in the Administration, with the naming of Dr. Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy and Gina McCarthy as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Department of Energy (DOE) kept busy, publishing methods for estimating energy efficiency savings, creating protocols that will offer consistency and increase the credibility of the reported savings from energy efficiency programs. And in his very first speech as Energy Secretary (which took place at the Alliance’s EE Global), Secretary Moniz pledged to address the backlog of delayed appliance and equipment standards. Most recently, the agency initiated the rulemaking process for establishing efficiency standards for electric motors. DOE estimates that the new rules, once implemented, will save up to $23 billion in avoided energy costs over 30 years.
Benchmarking Got Put in the Game
Cities across the country stepped up to the plate, putting in place rules that require large commercial buildings to benchmark and report on their energy use.
- Minneapolis unveiled its own building Benchmarking and Disclosure Ordinance in February. With estimates that it will affect over 600 large commercial buildings, the new ordinance will greatly impact the city’s goals to reduce GHG emissions by 15 percent by 2015 and by 30 percent by 2025 compared to 2006 levels.
- In September, Chicago’s City Council voted 32 to 17 to approve the Building Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance. Building energy use represents 71 percent of Chicago’s GHG emissions, so the ordinance will also help the Windy City achieve its Climate Action Plan goal of reducing emissions 25 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
- The City of Boston introduced its Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance in May. The ordinance is expected to affect approximately 1,600 commercial and residential buildings.
While we’re on the subject of buildings …
What do Atlantic City, Dallas, and California have in common? Building codes, that’s what!
Local and state governmental officials rejected dozens of builder-sponsored home efficiency rollback proposals in meetings convened by the International Code Council (ICC) in Atlantic City to develop the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Energy Efficiency Codes Coalition Executive Director Bill Fay explained the enormity of this feat:
“By dismissing efforts to roll back the historic 30 percent efficiency gains we won three years ago in the 2012 IECC, ICC governmental members avoided what would have been the single biggest step backward in energy efficiency ever adopted into the model energy code.”
And, Dallas implemented mandatory green building standards for all residential and commercial buildings, becoming one of the first U.S. cities to do so. Looking ahead to 2014, California (that’s right, the entire state) will implement its green building standards code beginning January 1st.
Capitol Hill Raised the Stakes … Sort of.
Over the course of the year, a bevy of energy efficiency bills and amendments were offered in Congress.
Of acute importance is the bipartisan, comprehensive energy efficiency bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S.1392, and also known as the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill) introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). In September, the Senate began consideration of Shaheen-Portman but the bill stalled on the floor due to the health care-related debate, government shutdown, and debt ceiling deadline. Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) are sponsoring companion legislation(H.R. 1616) in the House.
This year also saw more than 40 pieces of energy efficiency legislation, many of which were introduced as potential amendments to Shaheen-Portman, including the:
- Energy Productivity Innovation Challenge, previously known as the State Energy Race to the Top Initiative (and one of the key recommendations from Energy 2030)
- SAVE Act
- Better Buildings Act (TENANT STAR)
- All Of-The-Above Federal Building Energy Conservation Act (Hoeven-Manchin)
- Streamlining Energy Efficiency for Schools Act
- WAP/SEP reauthorization
- HOMES Act
- MLP Parity Act
However, because of a gridlocked Congress none of these bills or amendments were enacted into law. The Alliance will continue to work with the bill’s principals and other stakeholders to include the most effective amendments in next year’s iteration of the Shaheen-Portman bill.
Till Next Year
This year energy efficiency made strides in a myriad sectors and levels of government, but I’m looking forward to a 2014 with even more action.
I would need a much longer blog post to encompass the entirety of action on energy efficiency this year. What efficiency efforts are missing from this review and what EE efforts are you hopeful to see happen in 2014? Offer your thoughts and ideas in the comments and don’t forget to add your voice to the debate by demanding Congress take action on energy efficiency!
Visit EcoWatch’s GREEN BUILDING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.