The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA), a bill sponsored by committee chair Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that would have doubled U.S. investments in energy innovation and technology. Though in many respects similar to the American Clean Energy and Security Act (both failed to pass the Senate into law), the bill marked another example of Sen. Bingaman’s commitment to sustainability—a stance that benefits innovative designers. Further, Sen. Bingaman’s work as chairman for the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, & Infrastructure and his advocacy for making permanent tax incentives for clean-energy building means that he will inevitably play a role in shaping any upcoming debate over energy and sustainability.
The U.S. Green Building Council named the Expanding Building Efficiency Incentives Act of 2009 as one of the top 10 pending bills in 2010. That bill, cosponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would have increased and extended tax credits for new energy-efficient homes and increased the tax deduction for energy-efficient commercial construction. Sen. Snowe and Sen. Bingaman were the Senate’s fiercest supporters for performance-based tax credits that would promote jobs alongside energy efficiency. Their Advanced Energy Tax Incentives Act of 2010, which introduced credits for home retrofitters and manufacturers of new technologies for carbon capture and energy storage, was stripped by the Senate from the comprehensive 2010 tax package signed by President Barack Obama in December.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) disagree over the details, but both congressmen supported legislation to repeal a provision in the healthcare reform law that requires a 1099 filing form for every business transaction of $600 or more. Both senators argue that this paperwork is a burden on small businesses, and small architecture firms—which are the great majority of all architecture firms—would agree. However, Sen. Johanns’ legislation would at the same time cut $11 billion in wellness and prevention programs, a spending offset his opponents describe as a backdoor effort to gut healthcare reform. Sen. Baucus’ bill would simply eliminate the paperwork requirement, freeing up resources for small businesses without changing aspects of the healthcare reform.
Perhaps no city in the U.S. is more visibly associated with new transit development as Portland, Ore. That’s largely the work of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has served as a tireless advocate for Rebuilding and Renewing America, a campaign to invest in energy and high-speed transit across the U.S. For example, he has pushed successfully for federal support for Oregon Iron Works, which builds streetcars for the Portland Streetcar transit system, whose architects and planners then advise other transit projects. At the start of the 112th Congress, Rep. Blumenauer criticized a point-of-order rules change by the Republican House majority that would expose dedicated Highway Trust Fund funds to cuts in the name of deficit reduction.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) did his utmost to garner support for covered bonds, which are mortgage-backed debt securities popular in Europe that lack a statutory structure in the U.S. His first stab at a bill that would establish a legal framework for covered bonds drew bipartisan support but failed to find footing in the financial reform legislation passed last June. Lacking the must-pass urgency of financial regulation—and drawing the opposition of then-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the U.S. Treasury Department raised red flags over how a new class of secured assets would affect federal reserves—a standalone covered-bonds bill supported by Rep. Garrett died in committee. While new sources of capital are vital for architecture and development, there are growing concerns that the European Central Bank’s enthusiasm for covered bonds may be distorting their reliability in the debt securities market.
The co-author of the Buildings for the 21st Century Act, Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) is a natural ally on the Hill for architects and designers. That bill, which died in committee during the 110th Congress, would have increased and extended the tax deduction for energy-efficient commercial building costs. During that same congress, he was asked to chair the Energy Efficiency Task Force in the Financial Services Committee. And his office in Colorado was the first congressional office to reside in a LEED-certified building. But it is Rep. Perlmutter’s continuing work for small businesses as a member of the Financial Services Committee, including his support for 2010’s Capital Access for Main Street Act, that would most benefit the small firms that make up the majority of the field.