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A Building Fit for the Climate

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

As part of his ambitious climate plan, Joe Biden wants to retrofit millions of buildings to make them energy efficient. If passed, the Biden plan could make millions of buildings more energy efficient. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is that Biden’s plan will be a casualty of a divided government.

What is retrofitting?

Retrofitting is the process by which an old building is fitted with new technology to make it more energy efficient or to reduce its emissions. Retrofitting has been a priority for Democrats for over a decade. Tax credits for retrofits were a part of the 2009 stimulus package, and the Green New Deal called for retrofitting every single building in America. Democrats are right to emphasize retrofitting. Existing buildings take up 40 percent of energy in the United States and emit 29 percent of carbon. There is tremendous untapped potential in retrofitting these buildings, and in doing so there are millions of jobs that could be created.

The Biden Plan

While not as ambitious as the Green New Deal, the Biden plan does call for retrofitting four million commercial buildings and for direct cash rebates for people to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes. Additionally, Biden’s plan calls for the creation of one million jobs to retrofit these buildings. Biden’s plan doesn’t go into any more specifics than that. Biden declines to tell us just how much this will cost or exactly how the money will be spent. This isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, as the final details need to be worked out by congress and if Biden offered specifics he would have risked overpromising.

One Cause for Concern

Like the rest of Biden’s climate policy, so much will depend on the results of the early January senate elections. Senate Republicans will likely try to shelve retrofitting as being too expensive. Although, Democrats have taken the senate, but their majority in the house is so small that just a few defections will prevent Biden from getting his climate agenda passed. He will likely have to balance between moderating his policy to win over Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski without losing progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In such an environment, there may be more potential for private sector initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, such as personal carbon capture devices.

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