RSS

Category Archives: a dog’s purpose

With wildfire season at hand, California on slightly safer footing this year

When Anne Faught got a knock on her front gate recently, she was surprised to find two uniformed men at her rural Marin County property, one with a clipboard.

The firefighters had come to her home for an impromptu safety inspection. They were making sure she had cleared hazards like flammable brush and overgrown trees, both common in the small town of Woodacre, where houses like Faught’s nestle against a landscape of picturesque but perilous fire-prone hills.

“I just did $3,000 worth of tree work,” Faught said, pointing to two compost bins stuffed with leaves and branches. “We all saw what happened last year.”

In the wake of the most destructive fire season in California history, peaking with the fast-burning Wine Country blazes that killed 41 people and wiped out nearly 9,000 homes and other buildings, pressure to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire has been immense. And in many ways, the response has been proportionate.

The state stands on at least slightly safer footing this year as a new and perhaps equally challenging fire season approaches.

More firefighting power is in place as California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection crews are repositioned to hazard areas and equipped with new suppression gear, including a fleet of civilian Black Hawk helicopters.

Large-scale tree removal and prescribed burns are in the works with new funding from state and federal coffers.

PG&E is expected to face new sanctions, including the possibility of having to de-energize power lines on windy days, after the utility’s electrical equipment was blamed for sparking several of last year’s blazes.

And fire warning systems are better. State emergency officials are making sure more people will be alerted by phone of an approaching wildfire, having learned from Sonoma County’s failure to send out Amber Alert-style messages as October’s Wine Country fires bore down. Weeks after the disaster, when fires broke out in Southern California, notification to residents there already was improved.

But as significant, and plentiful, as the new fire-protection measures are, they merely nip at the edge of an underlying issue: that fire is a constant in California, and as long as people choose to live in and around the state’s wildlands, experts say, the threat remains.

“I would not be surprised if we have another big fire,” said Bill Stewart, forestry specialist at UC Berkeley. “I just don’t think we’re where we need to be.”

Short of keeping people from living in high-risk areas, which is hardly possible as Californians seek the space and serenity of life outside cities, experts say the most effective strategy for minimizing danger is hardening vulnerable communities to wildfire — much like what Marin County is trying to do, with firefighters going door to door to make sure every property is prepared to withstand the inevitable.

It’s not an easy task, especially in the Bay Area. Unlike national forests in the High Sierra, where government agencies can reduce the severity of potential fire by logging or burning large tracts of unpopulated land, coastal areas consist mostly of smaller, inhabited parcels. That puts the onus for maintaining safe surroundings on untold numbers of private landowners.

Not only are property owners often lax in securing their lots, experts say, but there’s too little regulation and enforcement of sound land use, namely where houses should be built, what they can be made of and how much vegetation must be cleared around them.

The Wine Country firestorm underscored these problems. The deadliest of the blazes, the Tubbs Fire that devastated Santa Rosa, blasted through well-known hazard spots, some of which had burned before. Still, homes were developed there, often lacking modern fire-resistant materials and without adequate fuel breaks.

“We really haven’t put together the pieces of a resilient fire strategy in local areas,” Stewart said.

A handful of policies have been drafted, although not yet put into law, in the aftermath of last year’s devastation to improve how lands susceptible to fire are managed. But none will completely eliminate the danger.

At least two bills in the Legislature seek to discourage homes from being built in fire-prone forests and grasslands. Both propose giving the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection more say on the general plans of cities and towns. These plans, which are done periodically, guide where new houses and subdivisions take shape.

The legislation, though, doesn’t necessarily require the communities to do what the state fire experts recommend, whether it’s refraining from developing in a wooded area or requiring more protective open space around homes.

One of the bills, by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale (Los Angeles County), calls for updating statewide standards for fire-safe building materials required of houses in high-risk areas, items like ignition-resistant roofs and tempered-glass windows. Already, the state is planning to add staff to work with cities and counties to enforce these building codes.

But like the provisions on where homes can be built, requirements on what homes should be made of apply only to new housing, meaning most structures wouldn’t be covered by the regulation.

According to the state Department of Insurance, about 3.6 million homes in California, more than a quarter of the total, stand within or near fire-prone areas. Nearly 1.3 million are located in high-risk spots.

Marin County Fire Department firefighter trainee Alex Mercer trains a hose at a small blaze during a training, session in San Rafael.

Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

A recent executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown on fire safety reaches out to those living in hazardous wildlands. It seeks to streamline permits for landowners who want to reduce fire danger by clearing trees and brush, and calls for the state to provide assistance with such projects.

Tens of millions of dollars in the state budget for next fiscal year and in California’s cap-and-trade program, which generates revenue by charging businesses for polluting, are earmarked for vegetation management. Also, the finances of the U.S. Forest Service are being restructured to enable more thinning and burning. Most of the new state and federal money, though, is likely to go toward big swaths of public land.

“Resources are an issue,” said Stephen Gort, executive director of the California Fire Safe Council, which focuses on community-level vegetation projects, often on private parcels. “There just may not be enough chain saws available in the state to make a difference.”

Gort’s neighborhood north of Napa organized years ago, and came up with the money, to create a 3-mile fuel break around homes. All of the properties there survived the October fires.

Additional legislation in Sacramento seeks to fireproof the state’s energy infrastructure. Bills introduced by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, would require utilities to upgrade equipment so it’s less likely to spark and to de-energize transmission lines when fire danger is high.

Already, PG&E has taken voluntary steps to improve safety, such as establishing a wildfire operations center in San Francisco, along with a network of weather stations, to better anticipate risk.

Whatever changes are made to safeguard California’s wildlands this year, they’re likely to come up against another difficult fire season.

The National Interagency Fire Center is expecting above-average fire potential for much of California through fall. Late-season rains this spring have spawned a bounty of combustible brush and grass, and the summer is expected to be hot and dry, according to the federal forecast. The fire threat is greatest in the East Bay and Sierra foothills, as well as along the Southern California coast, the report shows.

“We’re already seeing brushfires and the size of the fires increasing,” said Steve Leach, a meteorologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Redding. “I wish I could put out a below-normal (forecast), but we just don’t have a situation like that.”

Christie Neill, a battalion chief for the Marin County Fire Department, said landowners seem to be bracing themselves for the elevated risk, at least in the North Bay.

“I think people are just really more alert this year,” Neill said. “The fires (last year) were so close to us. People were either impacted or they had friends who were impacted. Hopefully, they’ll work with us to take action.”

That appeared to be the case in Woodacre.

After firefighter Cole Rippe finished his inspection of Faught’s property, he advised her to sweep some leaves off the roof and remove brush around a propane tank. Otherwise he applauded her for the amount of vegetation she had cleared.

“It needed to be done,” Faught said as she looked out at some pruned bushes. “I’d been meaning to do it for a long time. But after what happened in Sonoma (County), I knew it had to happen now.”

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:kalexander@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kurtisalexander

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Walking out to protest gun violence? Robert De Niro just wrote a note to your principal.

On April 20, students from more than 2,500 schools nationwide will walk out of their classrooms to protest gun violence.

At 10 a.m. on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, students across the country will drop what they’re doing and leave their classrooms behind as part of the National School Walkout.

The walkout is continuing an important national conversation that has begun in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Teens are refusing to let the debate fade from public consciousness until gun laws change.

Students will participate in a variety of activities organized by the leaders of that school’s walkouts. While some may return to class —  several school districts have already issued statements saying that not doing so will result in disciplinary action — others will march on their local lawmakers’ offices, call on the government for widespread gun reform, and register people to vote.

Some will, in accordance with the wishes of the officials at Columbine, participate in a day of service.

The protests have received widespread support. But one actor went even further to stand in solidarity with America’s students.

Photo by Karim Sahid/AFP/Getty Images.

Robert De Niro, a vocal critic of the NRA and now ally to the #NeverAgain movement, has penned an absence note for anyone who’s planning to take part in the walkout.

Didn’t expect De Niro to be the one to get all those students out of class? He’s got compelling reasons.

The letter, shared by the National School Walkout’s official Twitteropens with an appeal to educators to understand that they and De Niro want “a safe nurturing environment for [student] education and growth.” Then, De Niro outlined all the reasons he’s asked educators to excuse his children in the past, making it clear how those reasons are relevant to the walkout.

“Gun violence is a devastating disease,” he wrote under the heading of “health.” De Niro goes on to make the case that the walkout is an example of good citizenship — “This is what good citizenship is all about” — and education.

“What an opportunity to teach these kids history by encouraging them to make history,” De Niro stated. “Let them learn about the American tradition of protest for change as they experience it.”

View image on Twitter

Would most principals accept this letter? No. But it’s an urgent reminder to stand with the students.

The walkout is important. There’s no argument about that.

But it’s not about just a call for change; it’s a demand that, as a country, we don’t become desensitized to gun violence. The walkout’s creator, high school sophomore Lane Murdock, lives just miles from Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. She said the idea for the walkout came to her after she realized that her own reaction to the February 2018 shooting at Parkland wasn’t one of sadness or fear.

“I really felt quite numb to it. Our whole country is pretty desensitized to gun violence and once I realized I was, too, it really scared me,” she told USA Today. “I was no longer surprised that people were dying. That shouldn’t be the case.”

Share

Survivors of gun violence call for change at the March for our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. in March 2018. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

De Niro’s note is a good start, but here’s hoping that parents and adults see it and decide to write notes of their own — or, even better, also sit down with their teens to discuss what the walkout means and the impact that young people can have in the world.

“Keeping up the momentum is important,” said Murdock. “We saw that low after March for Our Lives, but students aren’t quitting on this. Our generation is demanding change and won’t be ignored or swept under the rug.”

Share image: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Ima
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stock Sell-Off Has Worrisome Similarities to 2008 Crisis

Stock Sell-Off Has Worrisome Similarities to 2008 Crisis

Investors may not be out of the woods just yet, despite the recovery of stock prices from their recent lows on February 8. In fact, some analysts and investment managers are seeing disturbing parallels with the 2007-08 financial crisisYahoo Finance reports. That’s worrisome, since the bear market of 2007–09 lasted 517 calendar days and knocked 56.8% off the value of the S&P 500 Index (SPX)per Yardeni Research Inc. At the close on February 12, after gains on two consecutive trading days, the S&P 500 was 7.5% below its record high on January 26.

The Investopedia Anxiety Index (IAI) continues to register extremely high concerns about the securities markets among our 27 million readers globally, outweighing low levels of worry about other economic and financial matters. A new risk for 2018, and thus a new source of anxiety, has come from so-called “short-vol” trading strategies that fell apart in recent weeks. (For more, see also: 6 Forces That May Push the Stock Market Even Lower.)

The 2007–08 Crisis

“Part of what brought down the stock market [last week] was very symptomatic and very similar to what happened in the financial crisis. Secured [securitized] products, leverage and complexity combining to form a selloff. When you look at 2008 a lot of it was there,” says Aaron Kohli, interest rates strategist at BMO Capital Markets, in remarks to Yahoo Finance.

In 2007, there was a subprime mortgage meltdown, as a housing price bubble began deflating. Banks were hit by increasing defaults and delinquencies on home mortgages, especially those that began to exceed the declining values of the underlying properties. Complex debt instruments carved out of home loans began to crater in value, such as mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collaterized debt obligations (CDOs).

This imposed huge losses on the holders, both individual investors and major financial institutions. Then the dominoes started falling, as big financial institutions faced insolvency and could not meet obligations to each other. For the first time, the concept of counterparty risk entered mainstream discourse, and a massive government bailout of leading financial institutions under the TARP program eventually was necessary to prevent systemic financial and economic collapse.

The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world then pursued a policy of aggressive quantitative easing, pushing interests down to zero (or even into negative territory), to prop up the prices of financial assets, and to stimulate the economy. As in 2018, 2007 began with a strong economy and upbeat U.S. economic outlook. However, by the end of 2007, partially due to the subprime crisis, the economy was in what has come to be called The Great Recession, which lasted into 2009.

Dangers in 2018

In 2018, the unraveling of risky “short-vol” trading strategies tied to the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) accelerated the recent stock market selloff. After more than a year of historically low volatility, a growing number of speculators began making what they had come to believe were can’t-miss bets using futures and options. When volatility as measured by the VIX shot up unexpectedly, these highly-leveraged schemes produced huge losses, and traders scrambled to raise the capital necessary to cover these losses, adding to the selling pressure on stocks.

Today ordinary retail investors can choose from more than a dozen ETFs linked to the VIX, Yahoo Finance reports. Many of these products are highly leveraged, meaning that their value can swing wildly, Yahoo adds. Just as with various complex debt instruments and derivatives in 2007–08, individual investors have piled into these new products with little, if any, understanding of the full risks. Yahoo might have added that even investment professionals seriously underestimated the risks of complex new products in 2007–08, adding to that crisis.

A particularly notorious example today is the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN (XIV) from Credit Suisse AG. It lost 92.6% of its value on February 6 alone, and Credit Suisse plans to liquidate it on February 21, at close to a total loss for most investors, Yahoo says. Also, as in 2007 with MBS and CDOs, the leading rating agencies have not been issuing warnings about the dangers of these volatility-linked products, Yahoo adds.

What’s Ahead

Since 1980, the MSCI All-Country World Index has recorded at least a 10% decline two out of every three years on average, per research by Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. cited by The Wall Street Journal. The maximum dip so far this year has been 8.4%, dividends included, from the high on January 26 to the low on February 8, suggesting a further decline this year, per both sources. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 fell by 10.2% over that same period.

Despite all this, the optimists point to worldwide economic growth and corporate profit growth that remain solid. However, even long-term bulls such as Michael Wilson, chief U.S. equity strategist and chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley, acknowledge that today’s high equity valuations will be hard to maintain in the face of rising interest rates and inflation, the Journal adds, raising the odds of further pullbacks in stock prices. (For more, see also: Why Stocks Won’t Crash Like 1987: Goldman Sachs.)

Read more: Stock Sell-Off Has Worrisome Similarities to 2008 Crisis | Investopedia https://www.investopedia.com/news/stock-selloff-has-worrisome-similarities-2008-crisis/#ixzz570nW6qyF
Follow us: Investopedia on Facebook

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

National Federation of the Blind Applauds Introduction of AV START Act

National Federation of the Blind Applauds Introduction of AV START Act

Legislation Will Promote Access to Automated Vehicles for the Blind


Baltimore, Maryland (September 29, 2017): Today the National Federation of the Blind commends Senator John Thune, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senator Gary Peters, Senator Roy Blunt, and Senator Debbie Stabenow for introducing the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act (S. 1885). This bill will promote equal access to automated vehicles for the blind and others with disabilities through the prohibition of discriminatory licensing practices and the promotion of accessible user interfaces.

“The advent of automated vehicle technology presents tremendous potential benefits for the blind and other Americans with disabilities,” said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “From more reliable transportation to greater access to employment, automated vehicles will be a valuable tool improving the opportunity of blind people to live the lives we want. But none of these benefits will materialize if the principles of equal access and opportunity are not front and center. The National Federation of the Blind therefore calls for automated vehicle technology to be accessible to everyone through nonvisual user interface options and nondiscriminatory public policy, and applauds Chairman Thune and Senator Peters for introducing a bill that takes positive steps in that direction.”

The AV START Act specifically prohibits states from issuing licenses in a manner that discriminates on the basis of disability. The legislation also creates a disability access working group, tasked with promulgating best practices and recommendations on the accessibility of user interfaces and vehicle design more broadly. The bill specifically denotes “accessibility” as a component of reporting requirements for vehicle manufacturers.

###


About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

CONTACT:
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)
cdanielsen@nfb.org

 

Heroic dog braves Long Island Sound to rescue baby deer

by Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer) –

 

We all know people who wouldn’t hesitate to dive into the water to rescue an animal in need; but how many dogs do you know that would do the same?

Come to think of it, maybe more dogs than people would rise to the occasion! Dogs are incredible in the art of rescue and have been doing it at least since the early 18th century, when monks living in the frigid and treacherous St. Bernard Pass in the Alps used their namesake St. Bernard dogs to help on their rescue missions after blizzards.

But what makes Storm – an English golden retriever from Port Jefferson, NY – even more special is that without any training or prodding, he leapt into action upon seeing a baby deer in duress in the Long Island Sound. Retrieving may be in Storm’s nature, but still, what a trooper.

“Storm just plunged into the water, started swimming out to the fawn and then grabbed the fawn by her neck and started swimming in to the shore,” says Storm’s caregiver, Mark Freeley.

Freeley took a video of the event, having no idea of how things would turn out. As you can see below, Storm gets to the babe, brings it back to shore, and then lays down next to it. And then?

“And then he started nudging it with his nose and then started pulling it to make sure it was gonna be OK, I guess,” Freeley says.

Freeley quickly called animal rescue workers who arrived as the deer headed back into the water, apparently spooked by the dogs.

“This time it went out even further,” Freeley says. Between Freeley and the careful team from Strong Island Animal Rescue League, the deer was rescued yet again.

The sweet fawn is currently on the mend at Long Island’s Save the Animals Rescue Foundation, donations to which can be made here.

CBS New York station WCBS-TV reports on the story below.

Tags: Animals | Pets

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What exactly did happen to Uncle Ed? Or, Fear and Loathing while growing moss between the fingers in the Pacific NorthWest.

What exactly did happen to Uncle Ed? Or, Fear and Loathing while growing moss between the fingers in the Pacific NorthWest.

by Stephen Ulrich

Another beautiful rainy June day in Vancouver.   Washington, not Canada.  For some reason, we live here.  OK, I know why we live here:  Family, friends, Wide Open Spaces, Affordability…… certainly NOT the weather.

The month of February where it didn’t get over 28’F for two weeks, and marked the wettest weather in recorded history, was entertaining in it’s own right.  Not unlike Oakland (where I was born) boasting the Greatest Basketball Team of all time, the Pacific Northwest is smashing records left and right.  Trump be damned (please) we are hellbent on being singularly responsible for refuting global warming…. but I digress.  Suffice it to say that grey weather in the farking winter is just fine, but the middle of June?  No esta’ bien!

While waiting for my Gardner’s aid, helper boy, skilled laborer, (i.e. my hands) to arrive, I find that the caffeine has once again drawn my fingers to the keyboard.  I was, honestly, just stopping by to check the weather to see if it could possibly be drier this afternoon so we could plant the Dogwood.  Dogwoods are a most resplendent ornamental tree, and given the grey nature of the sky in this area, they are a modest accoutrement for an otherwise dreary backyard skyscape.  No wonder the wife has “bedazzled” the interior of our spacious abode with the maximum lighting the square footage would allow.  The photo above depicts the exact amount of light normally required to depilate the nose and body hairs from an adult male homo-sapien.

The weather being confirmed as abysmal for the remainder of the day, the timing of the planting of said Dogwood has become secondary to its placement.  According to those in the know, the root system of a Dogwood is extremely shallow and likely not to require the three-foot pipes full of rocks I was intending to supply to direct the water to a deeper root system.  This is a blessing not to be taken lightly.  What it means is that I really don’t have to install a separate drip line/system for a Dogwood, rather it needs to be insured that the lawn gets watered regularly during those hot dry summer months which are apparently feigning complete avoidance of the entire area, all up in here!

Now my lovely and attractive wife is concerned that the placement of the Dogwood will not only interfere with the Badminton net/players that grace our yard at least twice a year, but endanger our view of the entire sky itself. I guess if we lay down under it?

The trees are gorgeous.  It is 80 degrees in San Francisco and I miss it.  The waterfalls are beautiful here and the trees are green all year long.   Except for the ones that lose their leaves completely. How am I supposed to spend the day in the garage working on my boat to enjoy the sunny lake we are visiting on Sunday when it is raining outside?  Maybe I should eat something.

What DID ever happen to Uncle Ed?

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Will Current Politics Affect Facility Management?

BY JUSTIN FEIT –

Changes are underway with the new administration – how will they impact you?

••••
President Trump’s agenda places several programs that have helped FMs in danger of being eliminated. Their survival depends heavily on the ability or willingness to push some key parts of his agenda through Congress.

After the unprecedented electoral victory of Donald Trump, the political climate in the U.S. has been in a state of flux. As the president fills in cabinet and department positions, enacts his agenda and navigates the tumultuous waters of the current political climate, the commercial building industry awaits Washington’s concrete actions and their wide-ranging impacts.

With Republicans holding both houses of Congress and the White House, budget cuts, tax cuts and deregulation are likely on the way. While some of these actions might help businesses, these actions will also have consequences for the buildings industry in the coming weeks, months and years. How will the current political situation affect you?

Information Sharing for Energy Efficiency

Michigan State University had a plan to boost its energy efficiency across the board but was in need of more information and strategies to enact changes across its portfolio of academic buildings, science facilities, parking ramps and athletic facilities. The Department of Energy’s voluntary energy program, the Better Buildings Challenge, provided these vital resources, even though it did not offer any financial incentives.

“We have saved close to $10 million over the past few years by installing energy-efficient measures across campus. We have reduced the energy footprint by 13% in the 20 million square feet included in the program,” says Lynda Boomer, Director of Planning Design and Construction at MSU.

Learning from similar universities that had undergone comparable projects, MSU found success in its energy-saving initiative. The information sharing partnership of the Better Buildings Challenge helped MSU enact HVAC upgrades, chiller replacements and insulation improvements for optimal efficiency.

Through the Better Buildings Challenge, partners commit to improve the energy use of their building portfolios by at least 20% within 10 years and lead the way in a network for peer-to-peer collaboration,” says Maria Vargas, Director of the Better Buildings Challenge. “By showing how energy efficiency has been successfully adopted – and the barriers addressed and overcome – these partners are examples for others across a myriad of building types and locations.”

Since joining the initiative, MSU has been able to achieve considerable savings in its facilities, and the program has been successful across the board in reducing energy usage in buildings.

“MSU became aware of the Better Buildings Challenge and Alliance through involvement in the International Institute for Safe Laboratories (I2SL). We had just completed the energy transition plan and were already on the path to reducing energy use on campus and becoming more efficient, so it was a good fit to join the Better Buildings Challenge,” says Boomer. “While they did not provide any financial aid, the program gave MSU an opportunity to network with other universities and suppliers that could provide ideas and opportunities for energy saving projects.”

In practice, the Better Buildings Challenge has been successful in helping participants reach that 20% goal. “Partners have saved 240 trillion BTUs in energy consumption, $1.9 billion in cost savings, 15 million tons in avoided carbon emissions, $8.6 billion in funds extended by financial allies partnering with DOE and 4 billion gallons in water savings,” says Vargas.

Initiatives that the voluntary Better Buildings Challenge has started include the Financing Navigator to help people find financing options, greater focus and research on data center energy use, water efficiency pledges that save both water and energy, and the SWAP, a reality TV-inspired web series in which property managers from two organizations look for savings opportunities in each other’s buildings.

The voluntary nature of the project allows organizations to earn recognition and share energy information with other participants, which can provide the spark for worthwhile changes. However, the future of the Better Buildings Challenge is in jeopardy due to a recent executive order and the future federal budget.

The Trump Trajectory

President Trump has targeted several Obama-era policies that directly relate to the buildings industry through executive actions and legislative proposals. One needs to look no further than the Better Buildings Challenge, which former President Obama introduced in his 2011 State of the Union address as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In his 2013 Climate Action Plan, Obama’s agenda included expanding the Better Buildings Challenge.

However, the Trump administration has taken aim at Obama’s Climate Action Plan with the Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, identifying goals of striking down energy-related regulations that executive departments have mandated in the past. This executive order could threaten the future of the Better Buildings Challenge, although it is not yet clear how or to what extent.

Executive orders have some historical precedent of being more symbolic, guiding the vision and overall policy of a presidency. Whether or not this particular executive order will on its own largely impact Obama’s Climate Action Plan is unclear at this point. But what an executive order may or may not be able to accomplish can be done so through legislation.

The budget proposal Trump will expand and hopes to usher through Congress provides more concrete plans for cuts within several departments that house energy efficiency programs. While this budget proposal will undoubtedly undergo major changes to placate the many factions of the House, the original budget presented provides insight into the trajectory this administration would like to follow as far as federal funding goes.

Two of the most important departments to look at with the budget proposal are the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, both of which would face cuts in 2018.

The DOE’s proposed cuts seem small compared to other departments with 6% or $1.7 billion in cuts having been proposed to its 2017 allocation. However, under this prospective budget, the National Nuclear Security Administration would receive a $1.4 billion boost, meaning cuts to other programs in the department – ones that might impact building operators – compound under this budget.
One of the hardest-hit agencies under the proposed budget cuts is the EPA; the agency’s overall budget would shrink by 31% or $2.6 billion. Stating a desire to cut back on regulations that hinder businesses, the president set his sights on cutting one particular program in the EPA: ENERGY STAR.

 
 
%d bloggers like this: