President Barack Obama announced the start of a new climate strategy that would limit pollution from existing coal-fired power plants and hinge the viability of the politically-charged Keystone XL Pipeline on whether the proposed project would further damage the environment with an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Members of the glass and glazing industry spoke today on how this will impact commercial buildings.

Obama, who pledged in 2009 that the United States would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020, said he was taking action for the “sake of our children and the health and safety of all Americans.”

Bill Yanek, GANA’s executive vice president, said he wasn’t sure what it will all mean for the glass industry.

“Will curbing North American carbon emissions positively impact the environment when globally such curbs are not in place or enforced?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t know the answer to that question. An additional concern is using the EPA ­– and not the legislative process ­– to move forward on such a sweeping regulatory endeavor. So the impact of this effort on GANA members is not clear. More importantly, efforts to decrease window-to-wall ratio at venues such as ASHRAE and energy efficiency protocols that fail to recognize the central role of glass and glazing deserve the industry’s focus and investment to a much greater degree.”

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), however, says it welcomes the president’s new strategy, but worries that the Senate will undercut the government’s effort by striking down a law that would eliminate fossil fuel use in new and renovated federal buildings within 20 years.

“We urge the President and Congress to work together to create true gains in energy efficiency that makes our communities more sustainable,” said AIA president Mickey Jacob, FAIA, in a released statement, “and not bow to the pressures of special interests who only want to increase energy consumption.”

Green proponents argue that repealing the fossil fuel-generated energy consumption reduction provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 would be counter to what the president hopes to accomplish. Crafted by the George W. Bush administration, the rule calls for the elimination of all fossil-fuel use — coal, fuel oil and natural gas — in all new and renovated federal buildings by 2030.

The natural gas industry says the policy would harm its image as a more environmentally friendly fuel than coal, while others say the mandate would hasten buildings’ energy efficiency nationwide and save money. The federal government spends more than $7 billion a year to operate its 502,000 buildings, with buildings accounting for 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to government figures.

Opponents of the measure in the U.S. Senate have already begun taking aim, even as the House currently considers repeal. Sens. Joe Minchin (D-W.Va.) and John Heaven (R-N.D.) have come up with a measure to replace the law with provisions to expand existing efficiency goals from 30 percent reduced energy use by 2015 to a 45-percent reduction by 2020. The proposal is expected to be offered as an amendment to a broader efficiency bill served up Sens. Jeanne Shaken (D-Vt.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that could appear before the full Senate this summer.