The Washington Post

President Obama calls on Bill Clinton to help unveil energy efficiency program for office buildings

President Obama will announce on Friday a partnership with private companies to invest $4 billion toward making federal government and commercial office buildings more energy-efficient, a program the administration predicted could create tens of thousands of jobs.

The program is part of a Better Buildings Initiative that Obama outlined in his State of the Union address in January to increase the energy efficiency in commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020.

Former president Bill Clinton, who co-chaired the effort to recruit businesses to Obama’s initiative, will join the current president Friday morning on a tour of a Washington office building that could be eligible for the energy improvements, White House aides said.

Though Obama first mentioned the energy efficiency goals during his address before Congress in January, White House aides are unveiling the first major round of investments as part of the administration’s “we can’t wait” initiatives aimed at taking actions to spur the economy that do not require congressional approval.

Obama has failed to convince Congress to approve most provisions in his $447 jobs bill and instead has issued a series of small-scale actions designed to put further pressure on his Republican adversaries by casting them as unwilling to act during the national economic malaise.

Under the Better Buildings Initiative to be announced Friday, 60 private companies, municipal leaders and labor organizers have agreed on a plan to invest $2 billion of private capital to upgrade 1.6 billion square feet of commercial and industrial property, as well as 300 manufacturing plants, said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.

That will be matched by a presidential memorandum authorizing the government to move forward with another $2 billion in energy efficiency upgrades to federal buildings, which will be paid for by the savings that the upgrades will provide in the long term, Sperling said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Jeffrey Zients, the government’s chief performance officer, stressed that no new taxpayer money or agency funds would be used for the public portion of the upgrades.

“The way it works is that the private firm [doing the renovations] takes the risk here,” Zients said. “They make the investment. They are paid through energy savings. Once they are paid back, the [federal government] enjoys the savings going forward.”

In addition to saving money and helping the environment, the program could also create between 35,000 and 50,000 jobs, Sperling said, citing initial reviews by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the University of Amherst. Those figures could not be immediately verified independently by The Washington Post.

“We think this a triple win,” Sperling said.

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.


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