NRDC Sues Federal Housing Regulators for Blocking Affordable Clean Energy Projects for Homeowners

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kate Slusark, 212-727-4592

NRDC Sues Federal Housing Regulators for Blocking Affordable Clean Energy Projects for Homeowners

NEW YORK - Federal housing regulators must stop obstructing programs that make
energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy projects affordable for
American homeowners, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Natural
Resources Defense Council.  

“Federal housing regulators are standing in the way of
programs that make clean energy projects affordable for homeowners and
lower electricity bills,” said Katherine Kennedy, Energy Counsel at
NRDC. “It defies common sense that the federal government is blocking
programs that could create jobs, jumpstart our economy, put money in
homeowners’ pockets, and fight climate change at the same time. Instead
of shutting them down, the federal government should help these programs
grow.”

NRDC filed the lawsuit in federal district court in the
Southern District of New York against the Federal Housing Finance
Agency, which regulates government sponsored mortgage buyers Fannie Mae
and Freddie Mac, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency,
which regulates national banks. The agencies have halted clean energy
financing programs—called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)
programs— that are already off the ground in California, Colorado and
New York, and have been adopted in 20 other states and the District of
Columbia.

With PACE programs, the upfront costs of property owners’
clean energy projects are financed by municipalities. Homeowners then
pay off the projects as an incremental charge on their property taxes
over an extended period of up to 20 years – with the savings on their
energy bills often exceeding the costs of the payments from the start.
The program is entirely voluntary and easily transferable to the next
property owner if the current resident decides to move. It can be used
to fund anything from small-scale renewable energy systems, like solar
panels, to energy efficiency upgrades, like better windows, insulation,
or heating and cooling systems.

The Obama Administration has supported PACE programs in the
past, with the Department of Energy awarding more than $150 million in
federal stimulus funds to support them last year. But federal housing
regulators have since halted the programs nationwide through a backdoor
administrative action. In July, FHFA and OCC issued statements to Fannie
Mae, Freddie Mac and the national banks that effectively halted PACE
efficiency programs nationwide. The result has been a freeze on nearly
all existing and planned PACE programs, leaving millions of dollars in
federal stimulus funds in question, and thousands of jobs implementing
the projects in limbo, in addition to putting climate change goals and
economic development plans across the country on hold.

NRDC is suing the agencies for halting the programs without
justification, and for doing so without following the proper protocol as
required by law. This includes failing to conduct a review of the
environmental impacts and to provide the public an opportunity to
comment before taking this action. 

“Financing is a key barrier for property owners who are
interested in lowering their bills with clean energy improvements,” said
Greg Hale, Senior Finance Specialist at NRDC’s Center for Market
Innovation. “PACE programs provide a unique solution – allowing them to
overcome this roadblock without relying on public dollars, and with
virtually no risk to existing lenders. In fact, with PACE programs,
clean energy improvements can reduce the risk of mortgage default by
lowering energy bills and increasing property values.”

In California, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Sonoma County,
the City of Palm Desert and the Sierra Club have filed similar federal
lawsuits. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and U.S. Representative Mike
Thompson have also introduced federal legislation that would require the
federal government to allow states and localities to move forward with
PACE programs.  

New York State is one of the 23 states that have enacted PACE
legislation, and the state received $40 million of the DOE’s stimulus
funds for PACE energy efficiency programs. In New York, at least 24
communities and three counties have implemented or are considering PACE
programs, including New York City, Babylon, Bedford, Binghamton, Ithaca,
Nassau County, Albany County and Tompkins County.

The full complaint can be found online here: http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_10100601a.pdf.

###

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

Share This Article

More in: