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Rebuilding America Is an Action Plan

April 26, 2010
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For several years now, Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) has been advocating a shift toward more sustainable and green construction. We understand that energy-efficiency practices in particular are not simply the right thing to do from an environmental perspective; they help the United States achieve greater independence from foreign, and sometimes undependable, sources of energy. According to Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, for a variety of geopolitical reasons, “green is the new red, white, and blue.”

A few years ago higher energy prices were encouraging the shift to new technologies and products that reduced energy use. The growth and good work of the U.S. Green Building Council also created momentum in the marketplace for energy efficiency retrofits. But the economic recession caused many private owners to shelve their plans. The credit crunch has caused many owners to put these initiatives on an indefinite hold.

However, I believe that by acting together and making our voices heard in the halls of Congress, we can jumpstart the construction sector of our industry. We can do good things for our country while getting construction workers back on jobsites.

MCAA was one of the earliest members of the Rebuilding America Coalition, a Washington-based coalition of construction trade associations, labor unions, manufacturing and supplier companies, and other advocacy groups for green construction practices and energy efficiency. Rebuilding America launched their initiatives last fall at White House and Congressional meetings, during which we explained the value of building retrofits, for the economy and the environment.

This year, Rebuilding America and its members are advancing a program called Building STAR. This package of rebates and tax incentives would quickly put hundreds of thousands of people to work conducting energy efficiency retrofits of this nation’s larger commercial and multi-family residential buildings.

The Building STAR rebates would cover approximately 30 percent of the cost of installing energy-efficient products and/or providing energy-related services (for example, energy audits) and are based on proven, existing state-level utility and other rebate programs. We advocate the use of a simple application process so that building owners can participate easily.

Reducing energy waste in our offices, shops, and apartment buildings will create good construction jobs around the country and provide a needed boost to the small business contractors that perform the vast majority of the work.

Building STAR proposes 17 incentives for efficient building equipment, materials, and services that would be an immediate catalyst for job creation by small businesses in the construction and manufacturing industries.

REVERSE THE TREND

Since the latest recession began, 3.7 million construction and manufacturing jobs have been lost, and the numbers are still not improving. Spurring retrofits of commercial and multi-family buildings through Building STAR can start to reverse this trend by leveraging private-sector investment to create jobs. For example, $5 billion of public funding for Building STAR would spur $10 to $15 billion in total program spending, creating at least 125,000 jobs.

Additionally, many other small businesses would benefit from the reduced energy bills and operating costs that result from an energy efficiency retrofit. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) experts estimate that if a restaurant cuts its energy costs by 20 percent, profits could increase by 30 percent or more. Across the restaurant industry alone, that would save $1.6 billion a year.

Rebuilding America has estimated that rebates and tax incentives for a full range of HVAC equipment, variable-speed drives, and services such as duct sealing and balancing would drive employment in sectors employing 2 million people in the United States - and nearly 90 percent of them work for firms of less than 20 people.

Building STAR would maximize federal investment, by leveraging $2 to $3 in private investment for every federal dollar spent. Therefore, Building STAR would spur total market activity of $15 billion to $20 billion, making this a great model for public-private partnership.

We are hopeful that as Congress explores ways to create more jobs and deepen the economic recovery, they will wisely enact this proposal. You can be assured that we will be lobbying hard for its inclusion in any jobs bills going forward.

The construction industry has always had the ability to do what is necessary to help create a prosperous future for this country. We hope we can now all join in making our voices heard in Congress to develop these new market opportunities. We will be creating not only much-needed construction jobs, but a more secure America in the process.

Publication date: 04/26/2010
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