The U.S. Senate began last week with its eye on Syria and the use of chemical weapons, expecting to take up the question of whether to give President Obama the authority to launch a military strike. Then, diplomacy intervened, and the door opened for Jeanne Shaheen and Rob Portman. The New Hampshire Democrat and Ohio Republican have been pushing legislation that would advance greatly the cause of energy efficiency. Now the bill has arrived on the Senate floor.
The hope is, senators will act quickly enough to gain passage, even as other items, such as a stopgap spending bill and raising the debt ceiling, crowd the agenda. Here is that rare piece of legislation, substantial, effectively designed and supported by a large and diverse cast, from the National Manufacturers Association to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The shame would be letting the opportunity slip, missing the chance to generate energy savings, create jobs, promote energy security and curb greenhouse emissions.
Among the leading provisions of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act is an effort to strengthen national model building codes, driving for greater energy efficiency, aided by input from the private sector and bolstered by the Department of Energy. States would be encouraged to adopt and push the model codes, a sum of $200 million serving as an incentive.
There is a research, development and commercialization component, a partnership between the Energy Department and private firms to spur energy efficiency. Manufacturers are encouraged to find energy savings in their shops and supply chains. No single entity consumes more energy than the federal government. The bill requires the feds to adopt efficiency measures across their computer systems. It invites agencies to implement the most current building efficiency standards.
The legislation sets up programs to train workers in energy-saving building design and operation.
An analysis of the bill by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy projects consumer savings of $59 billion by 2030, plus the creation of 159,000 jobs. At the same time, annual carbon dioxide emissions would decline by 108 million metric tons, or the equivalent of removing 22 million cars from the road. The council calculated last year that the United States ranked 9th among the 12 largest economies in energy efficiency. The Shaheen-Portman legislation almost surely would move the country up the ladder.
Both senators have taken care to steer clear of unnecessary controversy, thus, the deficit neutrality and absence of a Solyndraesque revolving loan fund. That doesn’t mean they have dodged all trouble. Disappointing would be the emergence of amendments that amount to little more than a partisan poke, a proposal, say, on the Keystone pipeline or the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to address climate change.
This is a clean, focused and practical bill that promises advances on several fronts. For his part, Rob Portman has worked hard to keep the legislation in position to move forward. Now the Senate can make a statement serving the country’s interests, about lasting benefits for the economy, energy strategy and the environment.