Construction and Climate Policy, Local to National

By: Jenna Prasad, Sustainability Engineer, Ambient Enterprises


As we enter 2024, all eyes turn to policymakers as they intensify commitments to climate action. Municipal, state, and national governments across the U.S. continue to push for decarbonization and energy efficiency in the built industry through increasingly strict regulations. Building owners, contractors, and engineers face a profoundly shifting landscape dictated by the implementation and enforcement of these rulings and therefore must remain proactive as compliance deadlines approach. As businesses prepare to meet these policies head-on, an understanding of current and upcoming climate regulations is crucial to navigating this new era.

In New York City, Local Law 97 stands out as one of the most prominent—and stringent—emissions reduction laws in the country. A subset of the 2019 Climate Mobilization Act, Local Law 97 requires buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet new greenhouse gas emissions, aiming to reduce NYC building emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. These emissions limits and energy efficiency standards begin in 2024, with even stricter carbon caps slated for implementation starting in 2030. Building owners are responding by implementing energy conservation measures, transitioning to lower-carbon fuels, and undergoing HVAC systems electrification and retrofits.

Alongside NYC’s efforts to reduce building emissions is a push to phase out fossil fuels. Local Law 154, passed in late 2021, sets carbon limits for new constructions and gut renovations, essentially prohibiting the use of fossil fuels. These requirements are enforced starting in 2024 with low-rise buildings and in 2027 for buildings with seven stories or more.

NYC is not the only city making significant strides toward greener buildings. Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) 2.0, adopted in 2021, established comparable emissions limits, which are enforced beginning in 2025 for buildings larger than 35,000 square feet and in 2030 for buildings exceeding 20,000 square feet. Similarly, Washington D.C. also established a climate goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in 2032, which is upheld by the Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) Program introduced in the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act.

In addition to state laws, environmental efforts are underway on a national scale. One target of national policy is refrigerant, which can contribute heavily to a building’s greenhouse gas emissions through leakages. Introduced in 2020, the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act intends to address the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are greenhouse gases with high global warming potentials (GWPs; used to measure the environmental impact of a greenhouse gas in comparison to carbon dioxide) that are commonly used as refrigerants. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), authorized by the AIM Act, issued a final rule on the phasedown of these gases, restricting the sale, distribution, import, and export of high-GWP HFCs, including R-410A, one of the most popular refrigerants internationally. Starting in 2025, refrigerant GWP for residential and commercial air conditioners, heat pumps, and chillers must be less than 700. Similar restrictions are in place for variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems and data centers, with enforcement beginning in 2026 and 2027 respectively. Many manufacturers are already transitioning to more eco-friendly refrigerants, such as R-744 and R-454B, for use in their products.

The most anticipated upcoming regulation facing corporate America is from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Initially proposed in March 2022, the SEC is in the process of developing a national climate disclosure rule, which will require publicly traded companies to report on annual greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risks. Such a rule is intended both to encourage companies to take emissions-reduction action and to prevent “greenwashing,” or making false claims about sustainability and positive environmental impact. Although it was initially anticipated for October 2023, the final ruling has been delayed; a release in early 2024 is now projected, in which case the requirements will likely go into effect in 2026.

One state, however, is not waiting around for an impending SEC ruling; in September 2023, California legislation passed two climate disclosure bills enforcing emissions and risk reporting for both public and private companies. The first is the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, which requires companies doing business in California with revenues of one billion dollars or more to disclose their annual greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2026. The second law is the Climate-Related Risk Disclosure Act, which requires companies doing business in California with revenues exceeding $500 million dollars to report biennially on climate-related financial risks starting in 2026. Both bills were signed into law in October 2023 by California Governor Gavin Newsom, and although they are still subject to legal challenges, these disclosure regulations indicate a nationwide shift toward actionable climate change mitigation.

Innovation and modernization in the built environment are actively being propelled by legislative developments at all levels of government. These regulations, both current and future, emphasize a shared responsibility to integrate environmental stewardship into the engineering and construction landscapes. If climate action is taken through solutions like electrification, refrigerant management, and carbon footprint reduction, the industry will align itself with a path of resiliency and sustainability in pursuit of a greener future.



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