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Sparks

Marco Rubio Used to Champion Energy-Saving Buildings. Now He Fights Them.

Before he tried to sabotage a plan by the Biden administration, the senator touted energy efficiency as an “innovative” idea that would save taxpayers money.

Marco Rubio.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I reported on how Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, is trying to thwart the Biden administration’s plans to tighten energy efficiency standards for new buildings.

But today I learned that before Rubio became an adversary of energy efficiency, he was a champion of it.

Longtime Florida journalist and Heatmap contributor Michael Grunwald recalled that back in 2006, Rubio published a book called 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future. The book is apparently the result of an outreach campaign Rubio initiated in 2005 to ask regular Floridians what they wanted the legislature to accomplish. In the introduction, he called it “our best effort to make politics proactive.”

Lo and behold, numbers 70 through 73 propose four ideas to create an “Energy-Efficient Buildings Reward Program.”

A page from Marco Rubio's book that describes an energy efficiency rewards programCourtesy of Michael Grunwald

The ideas included implementing a voluntary statewide incentive program for energy efficiency, creating a fund to help public institutions pay for building upgrades, and providing tax incentives to help homeowners buy energy efficient appliances.

The fourth, number 73 in the book read, “Furthermore, Florida will work to build energy-efficient buildings that meet environmental standards and save taxpayers money.” That's exactly what the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is aiming to do now.

In 2008, while Rubio was speaker of the Florida House, he succeeded in getting roughly three versions of these ideas passed. Though the legislature did not create a statewide incentive program, it did create a “Green Government Grants” program that provided funding to cities and towns to help them develop strategies to promote building efficiency. It also enacted rules requiring that new government buildings meet high-performance standards, and eliminated a looming expiration date on the state’s tax exemption for properties with solar panels.

When Rubio first ran for the Senate, he touted his accomplishments. “All 100 ideas were passed by the Florida House,” Rubio's campaign website said at the time. “Fifty-seven of these ideas ultimately became law, including measures to crack down on gangs and sexual predators, promote energy efficient buildings, appliances and vehicles, and help small businesses obtain affordable health coverage.” (Emphasis added.) Politifact later refuted that total number, finding that “using the most generous accounting, Rubio might be able to say that he got 34 ideas into state lawbooks.”

Now, after accepting more money from the homebuilding industry than any other senator during his 2022 re-election campaign, Rubio is single handedly trying to sabotage HUD’s plans to incentivize energy efficiency. The agency has proposed tightening standards that newly-built homes must adhere to in order for buyers to qualify for federally-backed loans. These rules would increase average home prices by about 2%, but they would pay for themselves within three years by saving residents money on their utility bills, in addition to significantly reducing energy demand and cutting emissions.

In the introduction to 100 Ideas, Rubio appeared to grasp the theory behind this kind of policy. “Tomorrow’s crises are only emerging problems today, and it is easier and less expensive to solve them now,” he wrote. “But when the problems go unresolved for too long … then the options narrow, and the price goes up.”

Rubio’s office told me the senator was worried about rising home prices. But it’s going to be much more expensive, and difficult, to make our buildings more efficient tomorrow than it is to integrate energy-saving measures today.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misstated when Michael Grunwald began covering Marco Rubio. It has been corrected. We regret the error.

Emily Pontecorvo profile image

Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal.

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