Posts tagged with "Congress":
Climate-change denial appears to be on the verge of becoming official U.S. policy. But all hope for reducing our carbon footprint is not lost. Case in point is the pending Timber Innovation Act, one of the rare eco-friendly pieces of legislation that enjoys bipartisan support. The bill (H.R. 1380, S. 538) seeks to establish a market for so-called mass timber buildings more than 85 feet tall that are built from panelized wood construction products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glued-laminated timber (glulam).
“Building with wood benefits both rural economies and the environment,” U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) said when she announced the legislation in early March. “This bill will help expand markets for wood products coming out of forests in Michigan and all across the country. At the same time, using wood for construction reduces pollution and incentivizes private landowners to keep their land forested, rather than selling it to developers.”
Architects who study the new wood construction materials say mass timber has economic, ecological, seismic, and aesthetic advantages over steel and concrete. “Photosynthesis, the process of growing a tree, absorbs C02,” explained New Haven architect Alan Organschi, adding, “Until it burns or decomposes, that carbon will stay in the wood like a bank investment.”
The concrete and steel industries are adamantly opposed to the Timber Innovation Act. More than 160 stakeholders from the construction, labor, and building materials sectors jointly signed a letter to the U.S. Senate opposing a version of the bill introduced last year. The letter questioned the fire and structural safety of mass timber and stated the bill would create an “imbalance in the marketplace by allowing the federal government to choose winners and losers.”
However, the bill’s supporters say the new wood technology promises to significantly reduce carbon loads in the building industry, which is currently responsible for close to half of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions. A typical mid-rise concrete and steel building, because it relies on pollution-generating resource-extraction industries, is responsible for emitting 3,210 tons of CO2 in its construction and lifetime, according to Timber City, an initiative undertaken by Organschi’s firm, Gray Organschi Architecture, that is supported by the Hines Research Fund for Advanced Sustainability at Yale University. In contrast, because trees are a renewable resource that sequesters CO2, a typical mass timber mid-rise building built from wood harvested from sustainably managed forest is responsible for capturing 4,720 tons of CO2.
Innovations in mass timber technology also resolve fireproofing and seismic issues that, until recently, were a major disincentive to using wood in large urban buildings, according to Yugon Kim, founding partner of the architecture firm IKD, who curated the exhibit Timber City at the National Building Museum in Washington last fall. “U.S. cities in the 1800s used to be made of wood, but then because of urban fires that started to change,” he said. “Now, because of products like CLT, we will be able to use wood in the centers of our cities the way we did in the past.”
Tall wood building construction is most advanced in Europe, especially in Austria, which boasts the world’s largest mass timber industry. An example of a commercially viable mass timber development that garnered worldwide attention is the nine-story Murray Grove designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects, which was built in London in 2009. It consists of wood load-bearing walls, wood elevator cores, and wood floor slabs. In addition to paying off for the environment, Murray Grove took only 49 weeks to build, whereas an equivalent-size concrete structure would typically have taken 72 weeks to build.
The mass timber industry is still in its infancy in the U.S. There are only several wood companies that make mass timber products, and local building codes generally disallow tall wood structures. The Timber Innovation Act seeks to change that situation by funding competitive research on mass timber technology at institutions of higher learning and by making funds available for a tall wood building competition and a wood innovation program for retrofitting sawmills in areas where there is high unemployment.
The pending legislation expands upon a federal program that established an earlier U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, which in 2015 awarded $3 million to support the construction of two such structures. One was Framework, a 12-story mixed-use building in Portland, Oregon, designed by LEVER Architecture, which is due to break ground this summer. The other was 475 West 18th Street, designed by SHoP Architects, an upscale residential building project near the High Line that was shelved in early March, reportedly in response to a market downturn for high-end properties.
Getting government sponsored research funding was critical to defraying added expenses associated with the extensive testing and research necessary to secure local building department approvals for building wood structures more than six stories, according to Thomas Robinson, founding principal of LEVER Architecture. “Whenever you are doing something for the first time it is more complicated,” he said, noting that a critical aspect of his project was demonstrating that exposed CLT and glulam can achieve a two-hour fire-resistant rating.
Given the increasing environmental concerns over the widespread use of steel and concrete, mass timber promises to be a more palatable alternative. “What the Timber Innovation Act does is make this an even playing field,” Organschi said. “We have these vast forest reserves which are not being utilized.… By using mass configurations of timber, we will get more carbon sequestration.”
While the Trust has long supported these preservation efforts at Pullman, we are announcing today that we have named it our newest National Treasure. National Treasures are a portfolio of highly-significant historic places throughout the country where the National Trust makes a long-term commitment to finding a preservation solution. Working with the National Parks Conservation Association and many other partners, the Trust is pledging to stay involved until Pullman receives the recognition it so richly deserves.George Pullman train-car empire birthed the planned industrial town that bears his name during the 1880s. After Pullman died in 1897, the city of Chicago annexed the town. It averted demolition a few times during the 20th century, eventually gaining National, State and City landmark status in 1972. National Park status could bestow additional protections and make it easier for preservation groups in the area to get funding and assistance, in addition to a boost in tourism.
The members of the committee determined that to remedy the fact that gas taxes have not been increased since 1993, the most appropriate course was not to raise the tax (as would make sense considering inflation, more efficient vehicles, and the negative environmental and congestion-related effects of gas consumption) but rather to transfer all of its revenues to the construction of highways. Public transit, on the other hand, would have to fight for an appropriation from the general fund, losing its traditional guarantee of funding and forcing any spending on it to be offset by reductions in other government programs.Highway cost overruns not covered by the gas tax could be paid for by up to $2 billion from drilling for oil in coastal waters, including areas in the Gulf hit by the massive BP oil spill,and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The New York Times recently blasted the GOP bill that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman himself, called "the worst transportation bill I've ever seen during 35 years of public service." He also told Politico, "It also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen...It hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we've been about for the last three years." With a vote imminent, groups from Transportation for America to the National Resources Defense Council declared today a national day of action to get in touch with your elected officials and voice your opinion about the bills. AIA President Jeff Potter is among those concerned that current transportation bills are flawed. “While we are gratified that both the House and the Senate are moving ahead on transportation bills, there are some provisions that would take our communities in the wrong direction,” said Potter. “We urge Congress to continue working on a truly bipartisan bill that helps meet the design and construction industry goals: hold funding levels steady, support multiple modes of transportation, and account for the many enhancements that well-planned transportation projects can bring to communities throughout this great nation.” While the AIA praised the Senate for including provisions that assist in planning mixed-use communities around transit, it worries that by removing dedicated transit funding, those planning capabilities are jeopardized. From the AIA's official statement:
The AIA is concerned that provisions in bills that have passed House committees would hurt a community’s ability to plan. This is especially true for provisions in the Ways and Means bill that remove transit from the trust fund and provisions in the Transportation and Infrastructure committee’s bill that prevent communities from using funds for preservation and re-use of historic facilities.Historic preservation is at risk in the Senate's S. 1813: MAP-21. Here's the gist of the problem from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Transportation Enhancements (TE), the single largest source of federal funding for historic preservation, is still under siege. ... MAP-21 (S. 1813) eliminates dedicated funding for TE, forcing the program to compete with other types of road projects that do not possess the same job creation or cultural heritage benefits as preservation-oriented TE projects. In addition, we anticipate harmful amendments that would further weaken the program. To make matters worse, the outlook for TE is even bleaker in the House. Current proposals not only eliminate the funding set aside but also eliminate the preservation-related categories of the TE program entirely. This is why it is critical to get favorable TE language into the Senate bill.The National Trust has also called for concerned citizens to contact their legislators about the proposal. You can read more about the connection between preservation and transportation at the Trusts's Preservation Nation blog.