HUD Is a Hub of Obama’s Climate Agenda

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (R) speaks as U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki (L) listens during the orientation to a Point-in-Time (PIT) count walk with local homeless advocates to find and identify the number of homeless Americans on the street, including veterans, as part of an effort to end veterans homelessness by the end of 2015, at National City Christian Church in Washington D.C, January 31, 2013. The PIT count is an exercise that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has required of jurisdictions nationwide in order to receive federal grant money aimed at reducing homelessness. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clare Foran
Dec. 12, 2013, 10:04 a.m.

While En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency ef­forts to reg­u­late car­bon emis­sions from power plants have taken cen­ter stage in the de­bate over cli­mate change, a host of oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies are fer­vently work­ing be­hind the scenes to carry out the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate ac­tion plan.

One of those agen­cies is the De­part­ment for Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment, which has a key role to play in both long-term dis­aster re­cov­ery and shor­ing up in­fra­struc­ture to pro­tect against dam­age from ex­treme weath­er events.

“If you look at the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate ac­tion plan … we’ve got to re­duce cli­mate change and lower car­bon emis­sions but we also have to pro­tect our cit­ies [and] our com­munit­ies from the ef­fects of cli­mate change that are already here, and we are, along with FEMA [the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency], the biggest play­er in long-term re­cov­ery,” HUD Sec­ret­ary Shaun Donovan said at The At­lantic‘s En­ergy and In­fra­struc­ture Su­per Sum­mit on Thursday.

Ac­cord­ing to Donovan, the de­part­ment is map­ping out mit­ig­a­tion strategies for fu­ture nat­ur­al dis­asters and work­ing to fa­cil­it­ate state and loc­al ini­ti­at­ives to in­crease in­fra­struc­ture re­si­li­ence.

Some of these ini­ti­at­ives in­clude dis­cus­sions with lead­ers of the two states hit hard­est by Hur­ricane Sandy last year — New Jer­sey Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Chris Christie and New York Demo­crat­ic Gov. An­drew Cuomo — about de­vel­op­ing mi­cro-grids to re­duce the scope of power out­ages and provid­ing fed­er­al loans to sup­port a state in­fra­struc­ture bank.

Donovan con­ceded, however, that for­ward think­ing has not al­ways been the agency’s strong suit.

“One of the fun­da­ment­al prob­lems we have in the U.S. is we’re prob­ably one of the best at im­me­di­ate re­sponse,” he said. “But we are nowhere near the best at long-term re­si­li­ence plan­ning.”

To fix this, Donovan said, there must be in­creased col­lab­or­a­tion between the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and state and loc­al play­ers. Gov­ern­ment agen­cies should also con­tin­ue to look for in­fra­struc­ture plan­ning prac­tices used in oth­er coun­tries and eval­u­ate wheth­er they would work here, he said.

In ad­di­tion to im­prov­ing re­si­li­ence to ex­treme weath­er, the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate plan seeks to bol­ster en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. There too, HUD has something to con­trib­ute.

The de­part­ment is part­ner­ing with EPA to de­vel­op home-la­beling stand­ards that would quanti­fy or rank en­ergy ef­fi­ciency for res­id­en­tial prop­er­ties. The tech­no­logy is in test­ing now but Donovan hopes it will even­tu­ally help lenders and ap­praisers factor en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency in­to prop­erty val­ues and in­form pro­spect­ive buy­ers about en­ergy sav­ings that could be achieved.

“Part of what we have to do is not only get it in­to the lend­ing sys­tem but also to get it in­to the ap­prais­al sys­tem to get lenders ex­cited about it, selling homes based on that [en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency la­beling],” Donovan said

The sec­ret­ary voiced his sup­port for con­gres­sion­al ac­tion to in­centiv­ize en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency, cit­ing le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, as an ex­ample of a prom­ising first step.

He was quick to note, however, that the de­part­ment would not wait around for law­makers to act. “We’re not go­ing to wait for Con­gress,” Donovan said. “We just launched in the last couple weeks a bet­ter-build­ings chal­lenge for mul­ti­fam­ily. This is something that the pres­id­ent took on for in­dus­tri­al and com­mer­cial build­ings and it’s worked very well…. We’ve chal­lenged private own­ers … to make their en­tire port­fo­lio 20 per­cent more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient by 2020. That’s an area that we think there’s a lot of po­ten­tial.”

Donovan ad­ded: “We have an enorm­ous op­por­tun­ity to do re­new­ables as well in fed­er­ally as­sisted hous­ing, and that we can do without wait­ing for Con­gress.”

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