The prominent environmental non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), having grown tired of waiting for federal regulators to restart Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs that were effectively frozen back in July, filed a lawsuit yesterday demanding the programs be restarted immediately. It joins a line of others who have filed similar lawsuits, including California Attorney General Jerry Brown and the Sierra Club.
PACE programs, for those unfamiliar with this issue, allow that upfront costs of property owners’ clean energy projects be 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, according to the NRDC, is entirely voluntary and easily transferable to the next property owner if the current resident decides to move.
The lawsuit around the PACE programs targets 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 NRDC said that in July these agencies “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.”
The lawsuit accuses the agencies of halting the program “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. ”
“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, in a statement. “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.”
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