Opinion

Energy Bill Conference Could Have a Happy Ending

Energy bill managers and conferees will have quite the story to tell. Full of twists and turns. For a while, the bill’s prospects looked grim. Now things seem to be looking up. But how will it end? Will Congress deliver the first comprehensive energy legislation in nearly a decade, providing enormous benefits to American consumers and businesses? Or will a shortened calendar leave conferees with too many issues to resolve, but not enough time to reach a compromise?

Nobody knows for sure, of course, exactly how the energy bill conference will conclude. However, optimism is carrying the day at the Alliance to Save Energy. Among the issues at stake, conferees have before them a set of provisions that could be the basis of a final, bipartisan package that could pass the House and the Senate and be enacted into law. These provisions comprise the energy efficiency title of the Senate bill that passed 85-12 in April.

Thanks to the leadership of U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the Senate bill leads with a set of energy efficiency provisions that enjoy strong, bipartisan support. First authored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the energy efficiency language approved by the Senate has been negotiated over about five years and achieved considerable support from diverse stakeholders. If conferees wish to reach a compromise between the House and Senate bills — and we think they do — then Portman-Shaheen is the best place to start.

Energy efficiency is the easiest, least expensive, most cost-effective and cleanest way to boost U.S. productivity, create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Portman-Shaheen would result in efficiency gains across our economy and deliver considerable savings. But nothing, in terms of those savings, comes close to the tens of billions of dollars of benefits from the Portman-Shaheen building energy code provisions. Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are sponsors of the House companion to Portman-Shaheen; indeed, these four energy efficiency champions are members of the Alliance Honorary Board, along with Murkowski.  

Building energy codes are implemented by state and local officials and determine minimum energy efficiency standards (for example, construction techniques, insulation, materials, and lighting) for new homes. A vast majority of states have adopted updated building energy codes and homeowners have reaped the rewards, often without realizing the magnitude of savings. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans who purchase homes meeting the 2012 or 2015 building energy code will pocket between $4,763 and $33,105 (depending on geography) after fully recouping the cost of improvements over a typical 30-year mortgage term. Since homes can sometimes last 100 years, these savings are available to future owners, too. Not to mention that more efficient homes are better built, more comfortable, perform best during very hot and cold days and have higher resale value.

Policymakers at all levels of government have long recognized that there is no downside to reducing wasted energy in the built environment. As evidence, consider that in June the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution that pledged support for greater energy efficiency in building energy codes. These mayors understand that homeowners benefit from lower energy bills. Our electricity grid and costs are stabilized by reduced energy use. And regulators may avoid or delay the construction of new power plants. No wonder Republicans and Democrats in Congress have supported building energy codes that are more energy-efficient than those that came before. The Senate energy bill conference presents the next best opportunity to carry on this legacy of bipartisanship.  

So how will this story end? Will conferees set aside provisions that President Obama has promised to veto?  Will they find common ground by building on energy efficiency provisions that senators and representatives of both parties have long supported? We certainly have an ending in mind. The Alliance is committed to the most efficient outcome because it also happens to be the best for American homeowners, consumers and businesses.

And then we will get to work on a sequel.

 

Dan Bresette is the director of government relations at the Alliance to Save Energy. The Alliance advocates for bipartisan energy efficiency provision inclusion in the final version of the energy bill.

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