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Energy Efficiency Bill Goes from No-Brainer to Life Support to Plan B

OK, with the government shutdown that kicked in yesterday at midnight, it should come as no surprise that we have a highly dysfunctional Congress. Still, when Congressional gridlock derails a good, sensible, popular bill on energy efficiency in a country that harnesses less than half of the energy we produce and loses almost 30 percent* due to inefficiencies, at least some attention should be paid.

U.S. Energy Use

They say the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing it. The United States rejects more than half of the energy it produces, and a good deal of that is due to simple inefficiencies. Recognizing that waste and targeting the easiest ways to address it the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill would be a good start to fix the problem. But after a promising start, recent Washington gridlock has stymied the bill’s progress. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy)

The bill in question is the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill [pdf]. Initially introduced in 2011 and reintroduced this year first in April as S.761 then in July as S. 1392 [pdf], the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act is designed to address the lowest of the lowest hanging fruit in our nation’s quest for energy security: energy efficiency by “promot[ing] energy savings in residential and commercial buildings and industry.”

In the case of buildings (where about 40 percent of our energy is expended) the bill [pdf]:

  • “Strengthens national model building codes,”
  • “Kick starts private sector investment in building efficiency … by creating a Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Financing Initiative,” and
  • “Trains the next generation of workers in energy-efficient … design and operation through university based Building Training and Research Assessment Centers.”

On the manufacturing side it:

  • “Directs the [Department of Energy] DOE to work closely with private sector partners to encourage research, development and commercialization of innovative energy efficient technology and processes for industrial applications.”
  • “Helps manufacturers reduce energy use and become more competitive by incentivizing the use of more energy efficient electric motors and transformers,” and
  • ”Establishes a DOE program — SupplySTAR — to help make companies’ supply chains more efficient.”

For all intents and purposes it seemed that this no-brainer bill would sail through Congress. Here are just three reasons why:

  1. It’s overdue — the last time Congress passed an energy bill was 2007, back in the good old Bush 2 days,
  2. It has had bipartisan support [pdf] and has been endorsed by more than 200 businesses and business and advocacy groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Small Business Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, and
  3. By one analysis [pdf], by 2030, it would save $13.7 billion while avoiding 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually and creating 164,000 jobs.

Indeed, when it was first introduced, it did appear that the bill would make it through the Congressional meat-grinder. Alas, as this tale of headlines reveals, it has yet to become law.

Chronological, Headline-by-Headline Tale of Shaheen-Portman

The bill’s 2013 story begins in April with blue skies and smooth flying.

Apr. 18: “Shaheen, Portman look to succeed in energy efficiency”

Apr. 18: “Jeanne Shaheen, Rob Portman have high hopes for energy efficiency bill”

Apr. 18: “Energy Efficiency Stocks Rally on Shaheen-Portman Bill”

Apr. 23: FULL COMMITTEE HEARING: To consider energy efficiency and hydropower bills

Apr. 23: “Hydro, energy efficiency bills get early start in Congress”

May 8:  “Energy-efficiency bill clears Senate panel” 

May 15: “Major business group backs Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency plan”

May 20 “‘Real interest’ in House version of Shaheen-Portman — Rep. Welch”

In June, it seemed to hit a bit of turbulence.

Jun. 5: “Hopes Fading for Quick Senate Action on Energy Efficiency”

But it got back on track pretty quickly.

Jun. 12: “Sen. Portman: Reid’s Keystone comments ‘very positive’ for energy efficiency bill”

Jul. 8: “Urging Congress to Agree on Efficiency”

Jul. 10: “Sponsors hint deal on energy efficiency bill close”

Jul. 29: “Making case for energy efficiency”

But then more turbulence …

July 30: “Shaheen: No vote on energy efficiency bill before August recess”

Reintroduced as S. 1392 [pdf], it gets back on course …

Aug. 2: “Shaheen-Portman Bill Reintroduced, to be Addressed in September”

Aug. 5: “Bipartisan energy efficiency legislation will benefit everyone”

Sep. 11: “With Syria set aide, Rob Portman’s energy-efficiency bill makes it to Senate floor”

Sep. 12: “Small Business Supports Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill”

Sudden politicking sends bill into tailspin and supporters in search of a Plan B.

Sep. 12: “Shaheen-Portman arrives, then stalls”

Sep. 15: “Promising Energy Efficiency Bill Stalled By Party Politics”

September 16: “Will Democrats haul out hookers in David Vitter fight?” (No, this is not a mistake. This story is relevant to the energy efficiency legislation saga.)

Sep. 18: “Amendments may derail Portman energy bill”

Sep. 18: “Energy efficiency bill bogs down in Senate”

Sep. 18: “Energy bill debate shows Congress’ dysfunction”

Sep. 26: “Wyden looking for Plan B on Shaheen-Portman”

A final thought.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how our good senators (and representatives) govern — not a lot of efficiency there in more ways than one.


End Note

* The United States loses or wastes about 27 percent of the energy that is used in industry, commerce and residences.

Bill Chameides's picture

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