Early legislation and executive branch actions have helped President Obama chip away at his goal of making buildings more energy efficient by 2030.
The cap-and-trade bill, one of Obama's central campaign promises, would have made buildings 75 percent more efficient than they were in 2009 by 2030 — 25 percent below Obama's original goal. That bill never made it to a vote in the Senate.
But efforts at improving energy efficiency in buildings did surface in more roundabout ways.
While it's up to states to set their own building code policies, the U.S. Energy Department under Obama has promoted model efficiency standards, and has actually conducted energy efficiency determinations — something the previous administration ignored, said Lowell Ungar, the senior policy with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
For example, the stimulus package formally called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 awarded $3.1 billion to states to meet or exceed existing standards.
As of April 2016, 40 states had met or exceeded those benchmarks, improving energy efficiency between 4.6 percent to 30.7 percent for commercial buildings and 11 percent to 25.3 percent.
The stimulus package also provided $3.2 billion in block grants to local governments for improving energy efficiency, including for new buildings and retrofitting old ones; $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient; $4.7 billion for weatherizing homes; and $4.5 billion in matching funds to update the country's energy grid.
The Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimates that these programs — which total $20 billion — will save over 400 million MMBtu (million British thermal units) of energy from 2009 to 2050.
Beyond the stimulus, the administration has provided funding to states that want to make their buildings greener.
In his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama announced the Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to make buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020 through tax deductions for building upgrades, financial support, public-private partnerships and programming.
According to the Energy Department, all of these programs combined will help reach the goal of reducing energy use in buildings by 50 percent by 2030. That's about half as ambitious as Obama's 2008 promise.
Experts also stressed that the Obama White House has given both policy and symbolic attention to energy efficiency, despite an uncooperative Congress.
"It's clear energy efficiency is a personal interest of his, and he has pursued directly," said Ungar, noting Obama's 2009 comments about insulation being "sexy."
Kenneth Gillingham, a professor of environmental and energy economics at Yale University, pointed out that the Department of Energy's appliance rules, which affect buildings, and research on low-carbon buildings should also count as progress.
"As for making all buildings carbon neutral, 2030 is quite a ways off," Gillingham said, "The bottom line is that quite a bit of work remains to be done to reach carbon neutrality for buildings."
We rate this a Compromise.