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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 today 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.

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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.”

  • “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.

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

But it got back on track pretty quickly.

But then more turbulence …

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

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

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.)

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.

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End Note

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