Congress wants to increase incentives for green-building practices with the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, informally known as the Waxman-Markey bill.

The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 26 and was headed for the Senate at press time. All indicators point to its passing, perhaps with some tinkering by the Senate.

The energy and climate legislation provides incentives for building while accelerating the benefits of sustainability and environmental performance. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 includes several initiatives such as:

• The Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance program, which supports the creation of retrofitting initiatives throughout the country for residential and nonresidential buildings. The variety of incentives includes credit enhancements, interest rate subsidies and initial capital for public revolving loan funds.

• The GREEN, or Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods Act, which provides incentives to lenders and financial institutions to provide lower interest loans and other benefits to consumers who build, buy or remodel their homes in ways that improve energy efficiency. The bill also increases energy efficiency standards for Department of Housing and Urban Development and assisted housing.

• The Building Energy Performance Labeling Program, which directs the Environmental Protection Agency to create model building energy performance labels for new construction while establishing a meaningful and consistent basis for evaluating the energy performance of residential and commercial buildings.

• EPA’s WaterSense program, which receives permanent authorization to designate products as water efficient, as well as funding for state incentive programs for use of water-efficient products.

• Extension of power purchasing authority for federal agencies that allows the federal government to enter contracts for the purchase of renewable power for a period of up to 20 years.

“This legislation, specifically the Retrofit for Energy & Environmental Performance program, will help accelerate the commercial real estate market’s update of green buildings by offering enticing incentives like credit enhancements, interest rate subsidies and initial capital for public revolving loan funds,” Ashley Katz, spokesperson for the U.S. Green Building Council, told Texas Construction. “The financial benefits that will be offered as part of the REEP program will help make green building even more affordable. This legislation will also help make our nation’s vast existing building stock greener.”

Katz says buildings in the United States are responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions, 40% of energy consumption, 13% of water consumption and 15% of gross domestic product per year, making green building a source of significant economic and environmental opportunity.

“Greater building efficiency can meet 85% of future U.S. demand for energy, and a national commitment to green building has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs,” Katz adds.

Members of the construction industry see it as a plus, too, according to Bill Brady, vice president of estimating for Cadence McShane in Houston.

“I would think this would have a pretty positive impact,” Brady told Texas Construction. “Right now, the new building market is down because of financing problems. For people to stay where they are, they may see opportunities to upgrade their facilities and get these relief programs to stay put.”

Brady says the biggest benefits will go to the various submarkets of construction in these situations.

“You’ll see lot of work for roofers as building owners go with a white roof or a green roof with vegetation growing on the roof. Air-conditioning people will be putting in more high-efficiency units or solar panels. Window people will be replacing glass,” he adds. “You may see buildings go from asphalt to concrete paving in their parking lots.”

“In the long run, I think this will be attractive to owners, especially if there is some sort of tax incentive,” he says.