The efforts of several building industry, energy efficiency, and renewable energy advocacy organizations to educate lawmakers in Washington, D.C., about the environmental impact of buildings and the role they play in climate change appear to be paying off. Two recently introduced pieces of legislation in Congress include language that, in addition to setting requirements for utilities to increase production of energy from renewable sources and other goals, establish new energy-saving standards for buildings and appliances that align with the "2030 Challenge" issued by Architecture 2030.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on June 26 to pass the "American Clean Energy and Security Act" (ACESA) (H.R. 2454), outlining continuous updates to the national building code's energy efficiency requirements through 2030. If the legislation—also known as the Waxman–Markey bill—were to be passed as is by the Senate and signed into law, new residential buildings would be required to achieve a 50 percent reduction in energy use (relative to a baseline set by the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code) effective Jan. 1, 2014. Also, beginning Jan.1, 2017, energy-reduction requirements for residential buildings would tighten by an additional 5 percent every three years through 2029. According to Architecture 2030 founder Edward Mazria, AIA, these targets fall in line with the 2030 Challenge targets his organization has been seeking since 2003.

"We call for 50 percent reduction in energy use below regional averages. Thirty percent below code is actually equal to our initial 50 percent reduction for each building type," Mazria notes. "This is absolutely satisfying. We're very pleased. We think they pretty much adopted everything we've called for since 2003."

The ACESA, sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D–Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D–Mass.), also accommodates the implementation of any new code developed that provides for even greater energy use reductions, requires states to update their own building code energy efficiency targets to meet or exceed those set out by the national code, and provides for the development of a residential and nonresidential energy and environmental retrofit program.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has also voiced its approval of the House's action, releasing a June 29 statement that commended legislators for including provisions in the ACESA it supports. Among those provisions are investment in energy-efficient retrofits to residential and commercial buildings and coordination of energy codes with other building codes. "These provisions not only will make the buildings and communities we live in more sustainable, they will create thousands of jobs for designers, planners, and builders, and they will lower energy bills for homeowners and businesses alike," said Paul T. Mendelsohn, AIA's vice president of government and community relations. "We are grateful that Congressional leaders have listened to and worked with America's architects to make buildings a part of the solution [to reducing greenhouse gas emissions], and we look forward to working with Congress to see these green building provisions entered into law."

As the bill moves to the Senate, it could be adopted as part of the "American Clean Energy Leadership Act" (ACELA), co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D–N.M.) and Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska), or the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources could draft its own version. The ACELA proposes national building code energy efficiency target reductions of 30 percent in 2010 and 50 percent after 2016, and it addresses the development of state programs to provide incentives for home energy retrofits."The provisions in the Waxman–Markey bill for the building sector are really critical to both our future economic concerns and our energy concerns," Mazria says.

To download the full text of the Waxman-Markey bill (ACESA), click here and progress to Title II, Subtitle A, section 201. For more information on the ACELA, click here.