“Building back better” starts with our buildings
No one should have to skip a meal or postpone buying necessary medications just to be able to afford an energy bill. And yet a shocking number of American families – One out of five – declare having to do exactly that. Fortunately, one of the federal government’s best tools for tackling the climate crisis can also reduce the energy burden on millions of Americans.
President Joe bidenJoe Biden Japan to potentially ease COVID-19 restrictions ahead of Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making June 19 a federal holiday China provides millions of doses of vaccine to developing countries in Asia MOREThe U.S. Jobs Plan calls for massive investment in our nation’s aging housing stock – building, weathering and upgrading 2 million affordable homes in cities across the country. Importantly, these affordable homes would be built with modern electrical appliances like ultra-efficient heat pumps and electric water heaters, which would significantly reduce the monthly energy bills for occupants and the climate pollution produced in buildings across our country. .
It is critical that Congress prioritize funding these investments in any infrastructure bill – for the health of low-income communities, for the growth of clean energy employment sectors, and for the future of our country. planet.
The economic benefits of these investments will be felt for generations to come, in just about every community across the country – red and blue, urban and rural. At least 2.4 million people – private contractors, HVAC technicians and electricians – worked in energy efficiency nationwide in 2019, although the industry was hit hard by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic . A federal investment to help low-income families modernize their homes would help bring back many of these high-paying jobs and support local economies that are trying to get past the pandemic.
Due to historical discrimination in housing and divestment, the energy burdens in this country are not felt equally. A report of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that low-income, renter, black, Latino and Indigenous households all spend a higher percentage of their monthly income on energy bills than white households. Utilities are also much more likely to cut off electricity to these communities for non-payment, the risks of this increasing as states across the country lift moratoria instituted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cutting energy bills means keeping the lights on for millions of American families.
These investments are also necessary to fight against the pollution of our buildings, which is responsible for almost 40 percent of our nation’s contribution to the climate crisis. While industrial chimneys and vehicle exhaust pipes may be what first come to mind when you think of pollution from fossil fuels, gas ovens and water heaters in our homes, schools. and businesses are huge polluters. These last months, the United Nations and International Energy Agency both sounded the alarm bells about this pollution, calling for the replacement of fossil-fueled devices with those that harness our country’s increasingly cleaner electricity.
Lucky for us, modern electrical appliances can do all that gas appliances can do, without the pollution. Electric heat pumps and heat pump water heaters are 200-400% more energy efficient than gas appliances and operate in the hottest parts of summer or on the coldest days of winter. Heat pumps also serve two purposes, functioning as an air conditioner during heat waves.
Investing in fully electric homes also eliminates an unrecognized but dangerous source of indoor air pollution – gas cookers, which produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulates and formaldehyde in our homes. Studies have shown that children living in homes with a gas stove are 42% more likely to develop asthma. Communities of color already live with high levels of outdoor air pollution – they shouldn’t have to deal with the same types of toxins in their homes.
Cleaner and more affordable housing is a victory for economic inequalities, the climate, public health and workers. It’s rare to see a public investment that benefits so many people in so many ways. Congress must not pass up this unique opportunity in a generation.
Rachel Golden is the Deputy Director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Buildings Campaign.
Andrew Brooks is the West Coast Director of Operations for the Association of Energy Affordability, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing energy efficiency in residential and multi-family housing.