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Biden Calls for Fossil-Free Federal Buildings in Blow to Gas

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(Bloomberg) — The Biden administration is poised to ban federal buildings from using fossil fuels, adding the government’s heft to a growing electrification movement that has natural gas distributors on the defensive.

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All new federal buildings would be required to be fossil-fuel free by 2030 under an Energy Department proposal announced Wednesday. The plan, which also applies to federal buildings that undergo renovation, would start in 2025 by mandating buildings reduce their on-site emissions associated with energy consumption by 90% relative to 2003 levels, the department said.

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“Ridding pollution from our buildings and adopting clean electricity are some of the most cost-effective and future-oriented solutions we have to combat climate change,” Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement.

The requirement comes amid a thriving climate movement to “electrify everything” that has seen cities from coast-to-coast banning fossil fuels in new buildings that could disrupt natural gas distributors. Montgomery County, Maryland, which has a population of over 1 million people, last week voted to forbid the use of natural gas for heating and cooking in new buildings. 

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Previous iterations of a mandate, which was attempted without success by the Obama administration, would have completely phased-out the use of fossil fuels in federal buildings. The latest version only applies to onsite consumption such as that used for heating buildings and water.

Read more: Carbon-cutting cities plug in to the ‘electrify everything’ movement

While natural gas, which releases about half as much greenhouse gas as coal, was previously embraced by environmentalists as a bridge to a zero-emissions future, the fuel is now vilified by many greens. Their concerns focus on the fracking process used to produce it and the leaks of methane  — a powerful greenhouse gas.

Buildings are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and fossil fuels used in federal buildings account for over 25% of all federal emissions, according to the Energy Department, which estimated the new emission reduction requirements could save $8 million a year. The agency forecasts that the requirements would, over a 30-year period, reduce carbon emissions from federal buildings by 1.86 million metric tons and methane emissions by 22.8 thousand tons — amounts roughly equivalent to the emissions generated by nearly 300,000 homes in one year.

The proposal builds on a broader Biden administration goal of net-zero emissions for all federal buildings by 2045. 

In addition to the Energy Department rule, the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced it was setting a new building performance standard that would require federal agencies to reduce electricity usage and electrify appliances and equipment in 30% of their building space by 2030.

(Updates with further details of proposal throughout.)

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