Opinion

Congress Should Help Protect EPA Voluntary Programs That Work

The new administration has put the Environmental Protection Agency in its crosshairs. The EPA, like any agency, should periodically be reexamined and its relationship with states and the private sector reassessed. But perhaps surprising to some, quite a few of its programs are almost universally lauded — on Capitol Hill and elsewhere — and shouldn’t be put under the knife, including those that are voluntary and support growing markets.

Among those programs is Energy Star, which is familiar to anyone who’s ever bought a dishwasher. Energy Star and similar voluntary programs provide the public and private sectors with a range of tools, technical assistance, research and data designed to reduce waste and increase savings for both consumers and business owners. Other similar programs at EPA include WaterSense for saving water and Safer Choice for finding cleaning products that are safer for the environment.

These public-private partnerships help businesses, consumers and state and local governments save money by helping them to invest in products that are efficient and less environmentally harmful. Congress should maintain the funding for these programs at current levels in the coming fiscal year, at a minimum.

The reason: They have a record of success. Take Energy Star. Its distinctive star-shaped logo has become the nation’s most widely recognized symbol for energy efficiency, with a brand awareness of about 90 percent. For every additional dollar Americans invested in energy efficiency by purchasing Energy Star-labeled products, energy bills were reduced by an average of $4.50. In 2015 alone, American consumers and businesses saved more than $34 billion thanks to Energy Star. Since 1992, Energy Star has helped companies and consumers save at least $430 billion on utility costs.

Energy Star serves broad constituencies in every state across the country. About 45 percent of the commercial building floor space in the U.S. benchmark savings by using Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager. Since 1999, Energy Star has certified more than 28,000 buildings and more than five billion square feet of space. Energy Star also has more than 3,100 home-builder partners that have constructed nearly 1.8 million certified new homes since 1995.

The voluntary WaterSense program at EPA is another successful example. WaterSense, which aims to reduce wasteful water consumption, helps consumers and businesses identify water-efficient products and services. Plumbing and irrigation products with the WaterSense label have been certified by an independent, third-party laboratory to be at least 20 percent more efficient than non-certified products. The WaterSense program also works with homeowners and businesses to develop and implement water savings solutions.

WaterSense has helped consumers save a cumulative 1.5 trillion gallons of water and more than $32.6 billion in water and energy bills since the program’s inception in 2006. In many parts of the country, water savings are increasingly important to future growth and development in the face of water shortages and droughts.

Safer Choice is another effective — and, again, voluntary program — administered by the EPA. It identifies and certifies cleaning products that are considered safer for the environment. The program offers more than 2,000 Safer Choice labeled products that are widely available in retail stores and commonly used in commercial offices, hotels and schools. To earn the Safer Choice label, a product must comply with a strict set of standards for human health and environmental safety. The program also ensures that trade secrets are kept, well, secret. Businesses can be confident that the label does not certify counterfeit products. Most of the 500 industry partners are small-to-medium sized companies along with larger, more well-known companies like Wal-Mart, Target and Wegmans.

Americans value energy and water efficiency more than ever. More than 500 businesses, organizations and local governments have written to Congress to support these programs. And over 50 lawmakers from both parties wrote to President Trump to protect Energy Star alone.

This outpouring is not just because efficiency is considered trendy or enlightened but because it saves money and is better for the environment. Critics of the EPA should go after real cases of overreach if there are any rather than targeting proven and effective programs like Energy Star, WaterSense and Safer Choice. Lawmakers need to know that they benefit consumers and industries that innovate.

 

Taryn Holowka is senior vice president of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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