If there’s one thing most political partisans should agree upon, it’s painless ways to cut our energy costs. While many states are working to cut or contain energy costs within their borders, similar approaches are not happening at the congressional level where energy efficiency advocates find themselves back at the same place they started a year ago.
Hopes were high that a bipartisan bill already passed in the House would also be approved in the Senate, but on May 12, the proposed law ran aground with little chance of re-consideration before the November election.
The proposed law, the Energy Savings, and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2014, was similar to the 2007 and 2005 Energy Policy Acts, which gave us improved efficiency standards for appliances, lighting, HVAC equipment, and motors. This bill also focuses on energy use in buildings as well as training of workers in the field, the addition of new rebates, and the addition of new performance goals for energy efficiency. The level of bipartisanship in both houses led one representative to describe it as rare as a “snowfall in July”.
As has occurred with many other issues, however, this one stumbled when senators not involved in its drafting tried to attach amendments pushing the Keystone XL pipeline and blocking impending regulations to limit carbon emissions at power plants. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow such additions, leading to the usual threat of a filibuster. The Senate voted 56 to 44 to approve the bill, but the minority blocked its passage in the House.
In a statement issued after the impasse, the Republican sponsor of the bill, Robert Portman of Ohio, said, “today’s failure to move forward on a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill is yet another disappointing example of Washington’s dysfunction.” Seven years have now passed without a significant federal law on energy efficiency.
Most energy-related legislative activity is instead occurring at state and regional levels, though it too demonstrates wide differences. Some coastal states are pursuing regional limits on carbon emissions, while some mid-western and southern states have either cut back or limited financial incentives on efficiency and renewables. At least one is also trying to block the expansion of solar power output by firms other than utilities.
When visiting other parts of the U.S. (where both power pricing and efficiency incentives are lower), facility personnel based in the Northeast are often surprised to see incandescent and T12 fluorescent lighting, coal-fired boilers, and single-glazed windows in buildings less than 30 years old. Such inefficiencies require federal action to ameliorate them, and we remain hopeful that it will come sooner rather than later.