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Obama calls for green building to save energy, create jobs

US President Barack Obama called on American businesses to cut building energy use by 20 per cent within nine years.

"Making our buildings more energy efficient is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, combat pollution and create jobs," the US president said during a campaign-style visit to Penn State University on Thursday.

Obama will ask Congress to provide companies with a tax credit that rewards them for retrofitting their buildings in ways that decrease energy usage. In addition, the Small Business Administration will encourage lenders to give more financing for commercial retrofits.

The White House said it is targeting green building in the business sector because commercial buildings consume roughly 20 per cent of all energy in the US.

To offset the cost of the proposal, Obama called on Congress to eliminate oil industry tax breaks.

"They are doing just fine on their own,” Obama said, echoing language in his State of the Union address last week. "So it’s time to stop subsidizing yesterday's energy. It's time to invest in tomorrow's."

The energy efficiency plan is an extension of Obama's call last year to give government rebates for home retrofitting, a proposal that has stalled in the Senate.

Among other green building programs called for by Obama:

— Grants for local and state governments that streamline building codes and regulations.

— Broader access to financing for businesses that want to make energy-saving upgrades, and loan guarantees for hospitals, schools and companies to do the same.

— Competitive grants for states and local governments that make it easier for companies to upgrade their buildings.

— More training for workers in the field of commercial building technology.

No major Canadian political leader has embraced green building as a strategy to create jobs and reduce energy use. Likewise, none of the top contenders for leadership of the BC Liberals Party or BC New Democratic Party are promoting green building as an economic strategy.

Before his remarks on Thursday, Obama was briefed on research designed to improve indoor air quality, and on a program to build high-performance wall systems.

Monte Paulsen researches sustainability for the nonprofit Tyee Solutions Society. This post includes a report from The Canadian Press.

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