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Candidates in the Hot Seat

Positions On Sustainable Initiatives Take A Front Seat As The Election Year Approaches.


By Jessica Boehland

Candidates have granted green building a supporting role in the race for the next U.S. president. Hillary Clinton has proposed a fund that would allocate $1 billion to states each year to support energy efficiency in public buildings and pledged that, if she is elected president, all new construction and major renovations to federal buildings will be carbon neutral by 2030. Noting that “the political context clearly impacts our work,” RK Stewart, FAIA, president of the AIA and champion of the organization’s recent environmental commitments, says he is encouraged to see green design enter the debate.

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But green buildings are not enough: Stewart and environmentalists are looking for more as they assess the green credibility of candidates. Clinton’s broader energy plan includes a $50 billion fund for efficiency measures and alternative energy solutions, as well as a 20- percent renewable electricity standard by 2020 and a 10-percent reduction in total energy consumption by 2020. John Edwards, generally considered to have the strongest energy policy among the presidential frontrunners, has proposed a 25-percent renewable electricity standard by 2025, a 15-percent decrease in electricity consumption by 2018, and a ban on new coal plants unless they can trap and sequester carbon emissions.

The heart of any candidate’s environmental policy, however, is its stand on global warming—both because the problem looms so large and because a comprehensive climate policy would address a range of environmental concerns in addition to energy issues. The Democratic candidates take similar stances on this issue, many through endorsement of the proposed Boxer-Sanders climate bill; not only Clinton and Edwards, but also Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson all support reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This is a goal already adopted in California and Florida, and it’s become something of a gold standard for federal climate legislation.

On the Republican side, only John McCain has established a target for greenhouse gas emission reductions. McCain, who has been pressing for climate legislation for 15 years, recently co-authored legislation that would reduce emissions 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. McCain has opposed renewable-electricity standards, and, while he has voiced support for energy efficiency, has failed to establish a specific target.

Why have so many Republican candidates decided to sit out the environmental portion of the campaign? Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, blames inertia. “Their leaders in Congress have been openly hostile toward solutions to global warming, and the titular leader of their party, the President, could not be worse on this issue,” he says. Or maybe they think the public doesn’t care. After all, only 7 percent of voters see the environment and global warming as their chief consideration when sizing up presidential candidates, according to a July poll from CBS News and The New York Times.

Karpinski explains, however, that such polls are misleading “because responses get fractured into separate issue sets.” Environmental policy, for example, affects national security, the economy, public health, and a range of other concerns that routinely poll higher than the environment itself. AIA’s Stewart says that because these issues are central to the nation’s future, he hopes environmental policy will gain prominence as the presidential debate continues. Karpinski is more blunt: “Candidates from either party who ignore these issues,” he warns, “do so at their peril.”

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This article appeared in the October 2007 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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