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House Republican surprised when top officials support Green New Deal’s efficiency goal

Responses by DOE and GSA officials catch Republican House member off-guard.

Rep. David McKinley (R-WV). Source: Rep. David McKinley/screenshot
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV). Source: Rep. David McKinley/screenshot

Government officials working in the Trump administration told lawmakers on Wednesday that they believe making federal buildings energy efficient within a 10-year time frame — a core part of the Green New Deal championed by Rep-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — is both a reasonable and achievable goal.

At a House Energy and Commerce Committee Energy subcommittee hearing, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) appeared to be caught off-guard by the admission of two Trump administration officials lending support to the Green New Deal.

Over the past few months, the idea of a Green New Deal has entered the political mainstream. The proposal addresses climate policy by calling for a rapid transition away from oil, gas, and coal. Simultaneously, the plan includes provisions to ease the nation’s worsening income equality.

The subcommittee hearing on December 12 was called to learn more about the federal government’s policy and experience regarding public-private partnerships in achieving energy savings for federal buildings.

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In his comments, McKinley, a strong supporter of coal and fossil fuels, expressed skepticism about the cost of making all federal buildings energy efficient and the feasibility of doing it within a 10-year time frame. He appeared to be trying to get others to say it’s not realistic to complete all of the energy efficiency work in the short time period.

He asked the witnesses appearing on the subcommittee, “Can we do this energy efficiency work on federal buildings in 10 years?”

“I think it’s a reasonable goal,” Kevin Kampschroer, chief sustainability officer and director of the Office of Federal High-Performing Buildings at the General Services Administration (GSA), said in response to McKinley’s question. The GSA plays a major role in the management of a large portion of the federal government’s buildings, including the upgrades that are required on a regular basis.

Both advocates and skeptics are paying attention to the 10-year time frame of the Green New Deal. The proposal’s advocates highlight the urgency of getting the nation to transition away from fossil fuels. Skeptics view 2030 as an unrealistic target because the proposal requires such a dramatic economic transformation. But at least with energy efficiency, Trump administration officials are confident federal building upgrades can occur within this constricted time frame.

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Referring to the “hue and cry” coming from incoming members of Congress about the Green New Deal, McKinley wanted to know if it is reasonable to expect that the federal government can meet the energy efficiency goals of the plan within 10 years.

Complying with McKinley’s request for “yes” or “no” answers, Leslie Nicholls, strategic director of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Federal Energy Management Program, responded: “Yes.”

The fact that two Trump administration officials declared that the energy efficiency component of the Green New Deal is achievable — at least for federal buildings — “shows that this is a common-sense idea that Americans of all walks of life can get behind,” Sunrise Movement spokesperson Stephen O’Hanlon told ThinkProgress.

The Sunrise Movement is a youth-led group that worked to get several progressive and climate champions elected to public office in the midterm elections. Since mid-November, the group has been working to educate members of Congress and the public on the Green New Deal.

Neither Kampschroer nor Nicholls is a Trump administration political appointee.

The GSA and DOE did not respond to requests from ThinkProgress to see if the two officials could elaborate on why they believe energy efficiency upgrades of federal buildings are achievable within the time frame established in the Green New Deal.

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The idea of Green New Deal has been championed by the Green Party for more than a decade. But with Ocasio-Cortez’s star power and her backing, the idea is making a big splash in Washington, D.C. The plan calls for the U.S. economy to “become carbon neutral” over the course of 10 years.

In a draft resolution, Ocasio-Cortez proposed the formation of a select committee to develop a plan for massive public works programs, powered by a jobs guarantee and public banks, with the goal of “meeting 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources.”

The draft resolution sets out a list of several major projects that need to be completed fast. These include upgrading virtually every home and building, including federal buildings, “with state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.”

And at least one state is already making big strides in energy efficiency. In early 2017, the Future Energy Jobs Act was signed into law in Illinois. Among other things, the law sets new energy efficiency standards and invests in weatherizing buildings across the state.

According to the Sierra Club, the gains for Illinois offer a glimpse of what a nationwide weatherization plan could offer: the creation of over 7,000 new jobs in the state each year, reduced air and climate pollution, and $4 billion in energy savings for Illinois families, with priority access for low-income households.

At the federal level, McKinley has been a supporter of energy efficiency efforts, just not on the scale envisioned in the proposed Green New Deal. In 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law bipartisan legislation introduced by McKinley and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) to encourage voluntary improvements in building energy efficiency.

“While many of our challenges are complicated and won’t get solved overnight, energy efficiency is one area where we can find common ground,” McKinley said in a statement after Obama signed the law.

But the Green New Deal would mandate the implementation of energy efficiency upgrades on a tighter timeline than McKinley envisioned in 2015.

“Energy efficiency is a huge piece of the puzzle around transforming our economy so that we can stop climate change,” the Sunrise Movement’s O’Hanlon said. “Upgrades to energy efficiency also are a major source to good-paying jobs, in many cases union jobs.”