Associated General Contractors of America Releases a Green Construction Plan

Date: July 7, 2010


One of the most salient issues in the green and sustainability landscape is how to improve the environmental performance of our country's buildings and infrastructure. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided funding to the General Services Administration (GSA) to renovate and construct federal buildings, courthouses, and land ports of entry as wells to convert federal buildings into high-performance green buildings. Federal agencies, including GSA, have already adopted green guidelines and standards for new construction and major renovation. Indeed, the Department of Energy (DOE) recently proposed a new rule to address the use of sustainable design principles for siting, design, and construction and the use of water conservation technologies and solar water heating. On April 22, 2010, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) released a national green construction plan, Building a Green Future, which outlines measures to stimulate demand for green construction projects, boost infrastructure capacity, and improve building efficiency and green construction practices.

Summary of AGC Plan

According to AGC, under this green construction plan, the nation's buildings and infrastructure will become more efficient, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting energy consumption. The plan identifies measures that federal, state, and local governments; government agencies; developers; and design and construction professionals must take to lessen the impact of our building environment on the natural environment.

Measures in the plan include doubling existing energy efficiency tax credits for commercial buildings, passing this year the Building Star program that invests $6 billion in improving the efficiency of commercial buildings, and speeding reviews and boosting local tax credits for green building projects. The plan calls for public building projects to incorporate state-of-the-art environmental solutions and for the federal government to make pragmatic investment in research and technology. It calls for transportation investments to improve capacity and reduce traffic in congested corridors.

The plan also calls for faster approval for new sustainable forms of power generation, including nuclear, wind, and geothermal power facilities. The plan urges contractors to recycle more building materials and cut waste.

Mid-Atlantic Construction Employment Data, March 2009-March 2010

While the plan is intended to deliver significant environmental benefits, it is also intended to provide new opportunities for the nation's construction firms and their employees that are hard hit in this poor economic climate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports construction employment data differentials between March 2009 and March 2010, for areas in the Mid-Atlantic, as follows:

  March 09 March 10 12-month % change
Delaware 20,100 17,300 -14%
District of Columbia 12,200 11,300 -7%
Maryland 155,800 138,800 -11%
Virginia 200,600 183,800 -8%

Other states were hit even harder, such as Arizona (-19%), California (-16%), Colorado (-19%), Idaho (-18%), Missouri (-17%), and Washington (-19%). AGC urges that investing in infrastructure would not only improve the environment but also would provide a boost to construction employment and the economy in general.

Building a Green Future Recommendations

Building a Green Future sets forth thirty specific recommendations in the report. Some are quite obvious and others, less so; but the plan provides a "single, cohesive blueprint for increasing demand, permitting and funding for green construction projects." The plan is organized around making both the environment and the processes greener: Making Buildings Greener, Making Transportation Greener, Making Water and Land Resources Greener, Making Power Generation Greener, and Making Construction Greener. The following is a summarized list of the thirty AGC recommendations to achieve a greener America:

1. Provide Tax Incentives: Expand the Energy Efficient Commercial Building Tax Deduction from $1.80 psf to $3.00 psf.

2. Support Building STAR: The Building STAR rebate proposal, which includes 17 incentives for efficient building equipment, materials, and services, should be enacted. The Building STAR Energy Efficiency Rebate Act of 2010 (S. 3079) would provide $6 billion in federal investment through rebates and financing incentives to cover about 30 percent of the cost of installing energy efficient products and/or providing energy efficiency-related services during 2010 in commercial and multifamily residential buildings. Interestingly, AGC observes that it is estimated that funding for $6 billion for the Building STAR program would spur $18 to $24 billion in total spending, creating up to 200,000 jobs in construction, manufacturing, and related industries.

3. Modernize Government Buildings: As noted above, the ARRA provides funding to GSA to renovate and construct federal buildings, courthouses, and land ports of entry as well as to convert federal buildings into high performance green buildings.

4. Establish Local Incentives for Green Buildings: AGC urges state and local governments to promote green building by providing incentives for public and private owners to pursue green building projects. Such incentives include expediting plan reviews and permitting, administrative variances for green technologies, tax benefits, financial assistance, and recognition. Click here for prior issues of the Newsletter that discuss such governmental incentives in the Mid-Atlantic region.

5. Preempt Clean Air Act for Greenhouse Gas Emissions: AGC urges that greenhouse gas emissions for buildings should not be regulated under the Clean Air Act through the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Rather, the AGC contends that they are better addressed through the market-based programs and initiatives in the report.

6. Fund Green Building Research and Programs: Congress and government agencies should continue to support and participate in research and programs to support green and high-performing buildings.

7. Double Investment Levels in Federal Highway, Transit, Aviation, Freight and Rail Programs: AGC urges setting the funding to $120 billion a year to improve safety and help ease chronic traffic congestion that wastes fuel.

8. Right Size the Federal Gas Tax and Transition to Vehicle Miles Tax: Congress should revise the current gas tax to restore its purchasing power to levels last seen in 1993 by setting the excise at 6 cents per gallon and indexing for future inflation. Congress should, in addition, transition to a vehicle miles traveled method of collecting the highway user fees to ensure continued financing of road, bridge, and transit projects.

9. Make Use of the Harbor Maintenance Fund: The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has accumulated a surplus that should be used to manage waterways more efficiently.

10. Reform the Current "New Starts" Program: The Federal Transit Administration's New Start program needs to be streamlined in order to fast-track transit projects, including rapid rails, light rails, commuter rails, rapid bus lines, and high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

11. Streamline Environmental Reviews for Infrastructure Projects: Efforts should be made to streamline the environmental review process while protecting the environment by designating lead federal agencies, establishing and meeting clear timelines, simplifying analysis requirements, and putting a statute of limitations on claims.

12. Preserve the U.S. Department of Transportation's Authority for Transportation Planning: The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) should not be required to share transportation planning authority with the EPA, as it encourages redundancy and inefficiency in the project delivery system.

13. Reauthorize and Expand the Federal Contribution to State Revolving Loans: Congress should reauthorize and fully fund the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund and the Safe Drinking Water State Loan Funds to ensure consistency and to increase capacity to fund infrastructure improvements.

14. Establish a Dedicated Trust Fund for Water Infrastructure: Congress should create a long-term, sustainable, off-budget source of funding for water infrastructure, such as a trust fund to finance construction and maintenance of this infrastructure.

15. Increase Funding for Water Resources Programs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation: The Civil Works Fund must be increased to at least $7 billion and the funding for the Bureau of Reclamation to at least $1.2 billion to avoid emergency repairs and to make progress in environmental restoration.

16. Support Long-Term Investment for Water Resources Navigation, Flood Control and Environmental Restoration: Congress should reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act and take steps to empower the Corps to effectively manage sediment and beaches to protect our nation from floods and keep our waterways open to navigation.

17. Reform and Expand Current Laws that Address Contaminated Sites: The current laws that address contaminated sites and brownfields need to be reformed to promote cleanup and reduce contractor liability. Congress should add an Innocent Contractor provision that addresses the liability of a contractor that does not have ownership of a property, has no knowledge of the site's previous uses, and is onsite on a contractual basis.

18. Continue to Support Jobs Training for Environmental Cleanups: The Administration should continue to support environmental cleanup training programs, such as the Brownfields Training Program.

19. Develop a Comprehensive National Energy Plan: Congress should encourage the allowance of market forces for the expansion of alternative energy to diversify the nation's energy sources.

20. Accelerate Licensing of New Nuclear Power Plants: Congress and the Administration should act on the 30 pending nuclear power plant applications that have been submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Needless permitting delays increase our nation's reliance on foreign sources of energy.

21. Avoid Mandates That Devalue Equipment Currently Legal to Operate and Restrict Competition in the Marketplace by Discriminating against Contractors Based on Their Equipment: AGC opposes any mandate to modify equipment already in use or to replace such equipment and recommends the alternative below.

22. Invest in Diesel Retrofit and Reduction Methods as Part of Contract Change Orders for Transportation Construction Projects: AGC and the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) have agreed on "Clean Construction Principles" to require reduction in diesel emissions from federally funded transportation projects through contract change orders that cover 100 percent of the costs to retrofit equipment. CATF represents leading environmental groups and targets diesel emissions reductions nationwide.

23. Provide Tax Credits for Contractors that Voluntarily Invest in Cleaner Diesels: To reduce the cost of developing and manufacturing diesel-powered equipment to comply with new emission requirements and encourage construction companies to purchase cleaner diesel-powered equipment, AGC supports a temporary 30 percent investment tax credit for (1) manufacturers of new diesel-powered equipment that meets the new emission standards and (2) construction companies that purchase new diesel-powered equipment or that make improvements to existing diesel-powered equipment.

24. Continue Funding for Grant Programs to Reduce Emissions from Diesel Equipment: A recent EPA report detailed the health, environmental, and economic benefits of the Diesel Emission Reduction Program (DERP). Congress should continue and expand the level of funding for DERP, considering the large demand and bipartisan support for diesel retrofit grants.

24.a. Reduce waste from construction and demolition: AGC supports and encourages recycling and reuse of materials to reduce waste from construction and demolition for various environmental benefits, including conservation of natural resources, decrease in use of land resources for landfill space, and reductions in air emissions.

25. Foster Local Markets for Recycling and Reuse: Local governments should foster the market for recyclables and provide incentives for encouraging those key businesses to locate in their communities, to avoid shipping material long distances to recycle.

26. Support Recycling and Reuse Research and Programs: The EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery works with industry, educational institutions, and other government agencies, such as the DOT, to research and implement practical solutions to manage waste from construction and demolition projects. This effort should continue to be supported by the Administration.

26.a. Increase use of recycled materials and industrial materials in construction: The construction industry is and should be increasingly using more recycled materials and industrial materials. Recycled materials make up a huge portion of credits that contractors can help achieve towards green building certifications.

27. Protect and Promote the Beneficial Use of Industrial Materials: Educating state departments of transportation, contractors, and other stakeholders about the beneficial use of industrial materials (such as coal combustion waste) will assist in improving their acceptance in the market.

27.a. Incorporate environmental stewardship into day-to-day operations: Construction companies should develop an environmental management system (EMS) both to remain competitive and to manage their environmental responsibilities. An EMS is a company-wide, systems-based approach to managing environmental risk and voluntarily improving environmental performance.

28. Establish Public Policies and Programs that Reward Good Performance: Government should focus its limited resources on facilitating environmental innovation by top performers by rewarding those companies with proven records of compliance and commitments to continual environmental improvement.

29. Bring Onsite Environmental Compliance Assistance to More Construction Jobsites: To enhance environmental protection, the EPA should initiate onsite compliance assistance, including a right to cure minor violations for first-time offenders. In addition, the EPA should allow for industry self-policing programs without threat of penalty and develop self-audit incentives.

29.a. Participate in green jobs training: AGC advocates investment in training programs for all construction industry workers, both union and open shop, to increase the number of green collar workers in America. AGC and it state chapters offer educational programming for general contractors interested in green training and partner with other groups to win training grants.

30. Change Green Jobs Act to Allow Broader Participation: AGC recommends changes to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which includes plans to establish an energy and renewable energy worker training program through a provision known as the Green Jobs Act (GJA). The GJA limits training grant funding to entities that coordinate with labor organizations. AGC supports the grant program and believes that the opportunity to apply for such grants should be open to all contractors, both union and open shop. AGC supports passage of the Green Jobs Improvement Act, which would allow any accredited training program, regardless of labor posture, to compete for grants under the GJA.