This is the time in the national political cycle when organizations like ours closely evaluate the priorities of the incoming Administration and look for overlap with our own advocacy agendas. And although as of this date (November 16, 2020) there are still many unknowns about what next year will look like in Washington DC, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is clear about our priorities. Let’s look at “Building a Healthy America,” the AIA’s 2020 Policy Platform, and see how it lines up with what the Biden-Harris Transition Team has posted on their website.
First, the Biden-Harris Transition Team’s four priority categories – “COVID-19, Economic Recovery, Racial Equity, and Climate Change” – are broadly aligned with the three planks of our policy platform: “A Future Economy,” “Climate Action,” and “Healthy Communities.”
Looking at the “Climate Action” plank in the AIA 2020 Policy Platform, our first listed priority is “Provide American Leadership.” AIA plans to hold the Biden Administration to their pledge to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord (which Biden has more recently confirmed will happen), provide federal leadership on climate and cross-agency integration, and promote science-based environmental regulation and research. The AIA’s position on “actively addressing the disproportionate impact of climate change and environmental degradation on communities of color” is certainly compatible with the Biden-Harris position to “ensure that environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build”. AIA will work to ensure those goals are followed up by specific Administration policies and action.
The Biden-Harris transition plan also includes plans that will require bipartisan support in Congress. This includes calls to “upgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years.” This aligns very solidly with our priorities, if not with our sense of urgency. One of the goals of the AIA’s second policy plank (“Transform Energy Use”), is to “[r]educe greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency in buildings.” AIA’s advocacy work over the next year could focus on making building energy efficiency improvements, part of a comprehensive national infrastructure package, should traction on infrastructure legislation finally materialize.
Our third category of priorities – “Commit to Zero Carbon Practices” – is where we will have to be the most diligent and influential. The AIA has made progress over the last few years with Members of Congress on the concepts of embodied carbon, carbon-smart materials, and making the case for zero-carbon energy codes. However, the incoming Administration currently frames “carbon neutrality” as a goal for the power sector, not the building sector. And although we were encouraged in June 2020 by the understanding shown by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis of the relationship between the building sector and a post-carbon economy, that Select Committee’s report will need persistent champions when the 117th Congress is seated in January 2021.
AIA’s advocacy team will also be sharing a post-election analysis early next year. A final thought for now: a phrase that comes up a lot in the interregnum between an election and an inauguration is “personnel IS policy”. Whoever controls the US Senate will influence the review and approval of Presidential cabinet appointees. And as many of our priorities involve the work of regulatory agencies and Administrative departments such as the EPA and DOE, it will be very important to us to develop productive working relationships with these secretaries and directors once they are in place.