Lawmakers’ Bill Would Promote Environmental Justice by Prioritizing Low-Income, COVID-19 Impacted Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/24/20]—As the country continues to confront the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) introduced legislation to make public facilities both more energy efficient and better prepared for future public health emergencies. The Open Back Better Act would provide stimulus funding for energy efficiency and resiliency retrofit projects in schools, medical facilities, government buildings, education institutions, libraries, and more.

Sen. Smith and Rep. Rochester said their legislation promotes environmental justice by prioritizing low-income, COVID-19 impacted communities. Funded energy efficiency and resiliency retrofits could include project components designed to improve safety and indoor air quality. This is particularly important for facilities re-opening before there is a vaccine for COVID-19. 

"Now, more than ever, it's critical that schools, libraries, medical facilities and other public facilities provide a safe, clean, and energy efficient indoor environment," said Sen. Smith. "This bill will create opportunity for public facilities—especially in low-income communities—to make energy efficient infrastructure improvements that not only improve preparedness and resiliency for future public health emergencies but help the environment too. It would also help spur job creation in the energy efficiency field and rapidly put people back to work. I look forward to working with Rep. Blunt Rochester in moving our legislation forward." 

“As we start to rebuild our economy from this ongoing public health pandemic, we must be intentional about how we rebuild. This pandemic has shown the inextricable link between our health, our environment, and our economy. That is why we must build back a stronger, cleaner, healthier, and safer economy—especially for communities of color and low-income communities who are overburdened by pollution, have experienced staggering rates of COVID-19 mortality, and have been hit hardest by the economic downturn,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester. “The Open Back Better Act of 2020 will ensure that our nation’s critical infrastructure, like hospitals and schools, is more resilient, more energy efficient, safer, and more reliable to guard against future threats, while creating good jobs and prioritizing the communities hit hardest by this pandemic.”

“We want to thank Senator Smith and Representative Blunt-Rochester for the introduction of this important legislation that will help American taxpayers and all our citizens address the needed upgrades to mission-critical facilities, like hospitals, schools and community shelters, to address important resiliency needs to help people respond to pandemics, hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other weather and climate-related disasters.  This bill should be passed as soon as possible and it can help put people back to work and upgrade energy efficiency, incorporate renewable energy and increase the use of modern technology.  The key is that private funds would be used to address these improvements, while utilizing federal funds to deal with resiliency needs.  The state energy offices stand ready to implement this program," said David Terry, Executive Director of the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO).

"The Insulators Union is very pleased to endorse the "Building Back Better" legislation and greatly appreciates the leadership of Senator Smith and Congresswoman Blunt Rochester to introduce this important energy efficiency legislation. This key legislation advances our nation's economic, energy and environmental objectives to create jobs, save energy and reduce carbon. Energy Efficiency investments are needed more than ever, and the work of our members and the value of mechanical insulation can make significant contributions to improve our public buildings. The Insulators Union also strongly supports the inclusion of essential federal Davis-Bacon prevailing wage standards to ensure that these green jobs are good jobs, and we encourage the inclusion of the "Building Back Better" legislation into comprehensive infrastructure/clean energy legislation," said General President James McCourt, Insulators Union.

“The Alliance to Save Energy applauds Sen. Smith and Rep. Blunt-Rochester for their leadership in introducing this legislation. If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that being prepared and having the right infrastructure in place are critical to our response capabilities. We can put people back to work and come out of this crisis better prepared if we make the right investments and leverage available federal funding with private finance through public-private partnerships.  This legislation does that by using the cost savings from energy efficiency improvements to help pay for facility safety, resiliency and flexibility to quickly respond to future emergencies. Congress should pass this bill immediately to help rebuild the economy and get hundreds of thousands of energy efficiency workers back to work,” said Clay Nesler, Interim President, Alliance to Save Energy.

“The Federal Performance Contracting Coalition (FPCC) applauds Senator Smith and Representative Blunt-Rochester for the introduction of the “Building Back Better” bill that will invest in our country’s critical federal and state infrastructure, improving our public buildings, creating jobs and doing so by leveraging money through Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs). Partnering with the private sector in an ESPC to upgrade federal buildings achieves nearly five times the amount of investment and utilizes the expertise of companies like those of the FPCC. We fully support the additional funding for the AFFECT program included in this bill, which will allow for important measures like cyber security and resiliency be included when upgrading federal facilities. The AFFECT program adds this incremental funding necessary to pay for these measures that can’t be paid for by energy savings alone. This highly successful program has helped save billions of dollars in energy costs and reduced energy use across the country. We look forward to the passage of this important legislation,” said Jennifer Schafer, Executive Director, FPCC  

The Open Back Better Act of 2020 would provide stimulus funding to States, federal buildings and Tribes to:

  • Upgrade public buildings, making them safe to re-open via improvements such as to reduce threats from COVID 19 and improve indoor air quality;
  • Create good jobs doing critical, long neglected upgrades in our schools, hospitals, and other public buildings;
  • Prioritize environmental justice through projects targeted at low-income, COVID impacted communities; and
  • Reduce emissions and lower operating costs by improving building energy efficiency.

This legislation is endorsed by: National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), Insulators Union, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO), Alliance to Save Energy, Federal Performance Contracting Coalition (FPCC) and the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment (MNCEE)

You can access a summary of the bill here and bill text here.

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