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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Popular Energy Savings Bill Held Up

Air Date: Week of
States that have adopted energy savings codes for housing. (Online Code Environment & Advocacy Network–OCEAN)

An energy-efficiency bill in the Senate has bipartisan support, as well as backing from businesses and environmental groups alike. The legislation sailed out of committee last summer but, as Suzanne Watson of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy tells host Bruce Gellerman, supporters are worried that if it comes up for a vote, the bill could attract amendments that will doom it.


GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. These days, there's not much talk in DC about CC - that would be climate change. And you don't hear much about EE, either - that would be energy efficiency. It seems the issues are just too hot to handle for a polarized congress. But there is one bill, introduced in the senate last year that takes on climate changing emissions and energy efficiency. It's the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, authored by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman. The bill has strong bipartisan backing but it stalled in the senate. The American Council for Energy Efficient Economy recently issued a white paper diving deep into the details of the bill. Suzanne Watson is the ACEEE's Policy Director.

WATSON: Many times when you say energy efficiency people think about putting on a sweater or turning the heat down or turning off lights or basically doing without. And in fact, what we mean when we say energy efficiency, and what this legislation gets at is really using essentially the same amount of light, the same appliances, the same comfort of living but using less energy to do it.

GELLERMAN: Well, let's look at specifics. I'm looking at the bill, and the first big chunk of money goes to building energy codes. You want to basically set standards so that states can follow those, is that right?

WATSON: That's correct, yes. We essentially want to create a minimum standard, if you will. We want a standard that is going to be something that we know lots of other states are already doing, lots of other localities are already doing. So what we're really trying to do is gain ground on areas that just aren't doing as much as others have proved can be done. And therefore, create and build more energy efficient buildings.

GELLERMAN: So, overall, what would this bill save if it were passed as it exists right now?

WATSON: The annual savings on the Shaheen-Portman bill by 2020 would be four billion dollars in annual consumer savings; by 2030 it would be 20 billion dollars. That's every year, that amount.

GELLERMAN: And what's the cost of the bill?

WATSON: The bill as we've determined it from our analysis is about 600 million dollars over 18 years, so looking from 2012 through to 2030, we're looking at about a 600 million bill to the taxpayers, to the federal government.

GELLERMAN: There are two provisions in this bill that would make buildings more efficient and businesses more efficient. Both of those are loan programs that are federally subsidized, basically the federal government loans money out at zero and businesses get to use that. Is my understanding of that correct?

WATSON: Yes, that's true.

GELLERMAN: So let's say I'm a company and I've got a business, I want to retrofit my building, I get money from the federal government, they guarantee the loan, and I get to do the project?

WATSON: That's right. That's right, and then you get to pay it back in the savings you secure from the project after it's finished.

GELLERMAN: Businesses are in the business of being more efficient. Why do they need these carrots from the federal government to do that? Why don't they just become more efficient and therefore they get to save the money?

WATSON: Well, I mean, if you had a building downtown right now and you had a furnace in that building and that furnace had been in operation for 20 plus years, they can go for 40, 50 years - what would be an incentive to change that furnace out for a more efficient furnace, except a rebate program with some sort of a sweetener that essentially says maybe there's ten-year life on that furnace, but here's a small sort of down payment, if you will, for you to change that furnace out today instead of ten years from now.

GELLERMAN: So there's a big bang for the buck, what about carbon emission reductions? Have you calculated those?

WATSON: Yes we have. If you want to go back to 2020, we're looking at 29 million metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions by 2020. And then by 2030 we're seeing 108 annual emissions avoided, million metric tons annually, avoided of CO2 emissions.

GELLERMAN: So I wouldn't know a metric ton of carbon if I met it. Put it in a context I can understand.

WATSON: If you were to implement Shaheen-Portman by 2030, you would essentially remove 75% of the energy use of the state of Tennessee uses every year.

GELLERMAN: What happens now? I mean, the bill was introduced last year, it got out of committee but it went no place else...does it have life after the senate last year?

WATSON: We definitely in the community, I guess I'll say, feel that it does. It certainly gained a lot of momentum in just the last month when we've had the like of the National Association of Manufacturers sign on to support this bill and actually began to work messaging to the congress that this is important to them. We also have the United States Chamber of Commerce, which has businesses across the entire country, have signed on to support this bill. We have environmental organizations such as Sierra Club and others that are signed on to this legislation and want to see it happen. So there's a very strong momentum that's built now and I think this could carry this particular piece of legislation through.

GELLERMAN: So, this bill last year passed out of the energy and natural resources committee 18 to three. What's holding it up now?

WATSON: There've been other issues that have taken precedent in the Congress, things like financial markets and financial reform and the Shaheen-Portman bill, which has such strong support, does have the potential to attract amendments that could be problematic. It could include some things that would prevent EPA from enforcing some of the Clean Air Act, it could also repeal the lighting standards that went into play the first of this year, which U.S. manufacturers have retooled factories to create, so there are a number of reasons but we are now seeing, as I said earlier, some good momentum building in terms of bringing this to the floor soon. There's a lot of negotiation that has to go on, a lot of give and take and again, a very political year, so it isn't an easy process. It's going to be a matter of how much I think folks want to see good energy policy pass before the election.

GELLERMAN: Ms. Watson thanks a lot.

WATSON: Thank you, Bruce, I really appreciate this opportunity.

GELLERMAN: Suzanne Watson is policy director for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.



Blog analyzing Shaheen-Portman

White Paper on Shaheen-Portman from American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Alliance to Save Energy paper on Shaheen-Portman

Environmental building code advocacy organization


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