White House seeks carbon curbs through energy efficiency gains

The Obama administration is taking several steps Thursday that officials say will advance the energy efficiency portion of the White House climate change plan unveiled in late June.

The Environmental Protection Agency will announce new efforts to help businesses cut energy use, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is seeking to help integrate energy efficiency into home mortgages.


Senior State Department and White House aides, meanwhile, will emphasize efficiency during Thursday’s meeting in Krakow, Poland, of the multilateral Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF).

The steps, while incremental, are a piece of what officials call wide-ranging efforts to help double U.S. energy “productivity” — that is, energy use relative to economic output — by 2030, while working with other nations to boost efficiency, too.

A senior official said in an interview the efforts are part of the implementation process for the White House's second-term climate plan, which is a series of executive-level actions that don't depend on congressional approval.

“This is a really aggressive campaign across the federal government and something that is a priority not only for the president, but a number of agencies, and we are looking at opportunities domestically and internationally,” the official said.

The EPA on Thursday will unveil upgrades to the online “Portfolio Manager” for the long-running federal EnergyStar building and appliance efficiency program.

The online tool is designed to help businesses measure and track energy use. 

Officials say it will be a more user-friendly interface, enhance data sharing and building design functions, and the tailoring of Portfolio Manager for Canadian use will also debut Thursday.

They said the upgrade will help meet the goals of the “Better Buildings Challenge,” a federal program launched in 2011 that aims to help businesses, universities and others reduce energy use in buildings by 20 percent by 2020.

More than 120 organizations representing, together, more than two billion square feet of space are already on track to meet the goal, the White House said.

Separately, the FHA will host a single-family “green mortgage roundtable” at the White House Thursday to “identify strategies for better incorporating energy efficiency considerations in the underwriting and appraisal process” for FHA-insured mortgages, official said.

Boosting home energy efficiency can be a hurdle because there are upfront costs to achieve longer-term savings, and the discussion will “focus on ways to overcome existing barriers and promote greater appreciation of energy efficiency,” according to the White House.

Internationally, the White House climate plan pledges new efforts to work on building efficiency with the 17-member MEF, whose members – including China the U.S. and the European Union – jointly account for three-fourths of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The White House climate plan seeks launch of a “major initiative” through the MEF this year on efficiency in buildings.

Officials attending this week’s talks in Poland include Todd Stern, the State Department’s special climate change envoy, and deputy national security adviser Caroline Atkinson.

Energy use in commercial and residential buildings accounts for an estimated one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.