Energy Efficiency and Environmental JUSTICE& 8230 Policy Energy Essay

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Energy Efficiency and Environmental Justice…

Policy Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency and Environmental Justice: From Incentive only to Mandate with Incentive Policy Plans

Energy Efficiency and Environmental Justice: From Incentive only to Mandate with Incentive Policy Plans

Energy Efficiency and Environmental Justice Policy Barriers

Under the provision of 12 U.S.C. § 1701t: U.S. Code - Section 1701T, Congress has reaffirmed the right of all U.S. citizens and especially those who cannot provide housing accommodations for themselves have "decent homes and suitable living environments." The U.S. code responds to the fact that this goal has yet to be met on the federal or state level, yet does not address the full definition of what constitutes a "suitable living environment." Environmental justice is a foundational aspect of new laws regarding where we live and work and though some address has been accommodated in housing laws for the safety of low income households with regard to where such housing can be built, in mass, and how it must be maintained, it does not address the impact of such housing on the environment. Therefore issues like energy efficiency of suitable housing is not included in environmental justice legislation or in the various state and local mandates and standards that dictate the standards with which properties must be maintained. It is also safe to say that environmental justice is a relatively new concept with regard to civil rights and more specifically justice for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Yet the legislation that dictates environmental justice, with regard to housing on a federal and state level has existed since the late 1960s and is in clear need of reformation to more adequately define issues of environmental justice to include new incentives that respond to energy efficiency needs.

Likely the biggest challenges associated with this aspect of environmental justice are those which dominate the culture in general, with regard to energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has only recently come to the forefront of public concern, in a manner that is truly responsive to conservation. Conservation of energy on many levels is still considered a personal responsibility, in the U.S. And elsewhere and is dictated in many ways by the individuals desire to be more environmentally responsible and secondarily by his or her ability to pay for energy waste or conversely the individual upgrades and standards that need to be instituted to reduce energy waste (Gardner & Stern, 2008). Though the state and federal government can support issues of energy efficiency with legislation and/or benefits the influence such entities have is currently minimal, and associated with limited self-driven benefit systems that offer the individual home owner tax credits for improvements but are completely unresponsive to non-owner occupiers, which constitutes a large portion of the housed population in the U.S. The policy challenges will then surround fighting the historical standard of influencing voluntary behavior with incentives rather than mandates and in the case of low income housing fear of overly challenging low income housing suppliers with additional regulations and mandates, on an already long list in a system that inherently has higher risks to the property owner than private renting does.

The incentive over mandate system has yielded some results with regard to energy efficiency. The manufacturing and retail industries have responded to this benefit system by utilizing energy efficiency ratings to market products to those who seek to upgrade the systems in their home (Belli, 2011). They also often help the consumer by explaining both the tax benefit and describing how they might apply for them once they have purchased and installed various qualifying appliances and systems. Yet, these benefits are only available to those who have the resources to purchase new appliances, windows and systems as well as the resources to install them appropriately so they work as effectively as intended. Given that the culture in the U.S. is clearly one that has been demonstrative of excess usage and waste for decades and that the programs again can only benefit those willing and able to upgrade systems, at a significant cost the implementation of these voluntary benefits programs can only minimally impact the whole and will have little if any impact on those who cannot afford expensive upgrades (Gardner & Stern, 2008). Even some who can afford the output of systems upgrades for home and commercial properties may also still choose to pay for excess energy use; as such costs are spread out over time rather than output the large sum, payable up front, to upgrade systems (Levitan, 2011).

Though some would see this question as a moot point asking how the housing impacts the environment is secondary to the desire to meet growing housing needs for individuals who qualify yet there is an aspect of this issue that very much impacts families and this is the development of sustainable living, which impacts all renters unfairly but low income renters have a greater burden due to finances and the rising disproportionate percentage low-income households pay for housing (Segelken, 2006) (Makin, 2010). "Low-income renters saw their housing costs increase significantly. In 1987 a median of 29% of income was paid for housing costs by renters, while the corresponding figure for homeowners was 18%. More than three times as many low-income renters as low-income homeowners spent over half of their incomes on housing," (Makin, 2010, p. 23) The environmental sustainability of partly federally funded housing affects families in that many, in a rush to provide such housing are housed in units which are not energy efficient.

The Renter/Owner Gap Under Incentive Only Plans

Energy efficiency can be addressed minimally on an individual level with tools such as retrofit weatherproofing as well as items such as compact florescent light bulbs but both put the burden of cost on the individual receiving benefits and do not address the need to retrofit property or build new properties that have energy efficient systems, walls, appliances and windows (Gardner & Stern, 2008). ComEd the Chicago electrical utility company offers a website to the public that lists a host of energy efficiency tips for the renter. These tips include the standard list, turn off appliances when not in use, turn of lights, reduce heat in unoccupied spaces, change to compact florescent light bulbs (a significant cost alone) but when it comes down to it the real issue of energy efficiency is associated with housing systems, none of which the renter has any control over. The website then offers the renter a paltry list of things they should ask and consider when moving into a new home all of which imply influence over a homeowner that renters simply do not have;

-- A good time for a renter to pay attention to energy efficiency is before moving into an apartment.

-- Ask the landlord about the efficiency and maintenance of the furnace, air conditioner, water heater and appliances.

-- Before you move in, request caulking around the windows and outlet covers and installation of weather stripping around doors and windows.

-- Ask to see previous months' energy bills. Try to choose an apartment with low energy bills.

-- Be sure to point out to the landlord that improving energy efficiency can help increase the property's value. ("ComEd offers…" 2007, NP)

Having looked over this list the consideration is valid and future renters should hold the owner accountable for this information, as simply asking might encourage the owner to obtain more information and possibly even upgrade systems in the future, but that is also a significant leap of faith. Having established that real savings and energy efficiency are most impacted by systems upgrades, rather than usage patterns, appliances, windows and doors, insulation and weatherproofing are often substantial investments, though there are a few that are less costly than others, the renter is at a severe disadvantage as he or she is unlikely to desire to invest in a property they do not own.

The leap of faith arises when one looks at the relationship between owner and renter. In a high demand low availability area the renter may be in a position of finding adequate housing rapidly and often without much consideration for the future, he or she is simply seeking to convince the owner that he or she is a good bet economically and will not cause undue damage to the property. In this scenario the owner is at an advantage that allows him or her to be choosy and not offer a lot of extras, they do not have to sell the space as in high demand areas the space sells itself. Second, in low demand areas, where there are ample housing options and the consumer has a lot to choose from the owner is likely selling the space to some degree and attempting to attract renters rapidly so as not to incur the costs associated with vacancy and the loss of income. Though in the second scenario the owner who has or is willing to upgrade the energy efficiency of the property has a higher…[continue]

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