A Step Forward for Efficiency, but Many Other Steps Back

The U.S. House yesterday gave final passage to the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015, which although limited in scope represents the first clean energy legislation to emerge from Congress this year, and sent it to President Obama for his signature.

Specifically, the bill, introduced in the Senate by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), includes a groundbreaking new way to identify high-efficiency spaces, known as Tenant Star. It is similar to the ENERGY STAR program, the exceptional program that identifies high-efficiency whole buildings. It could help building owners to obtain higher rents and values for investing to improve a specific leased space. Some estimate the labelling system alone could lead to reduced utility bills by an estimated $2 billion dollars by 2030 and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 12 million metric tons. The legislation also exempts "grid-enabled water heaters" from the federal energy efficiency standards for large water heaters. Smart grid-responsive water heaters present a promising possibility for a more efficient, more economic, and ultimately lower-emissions electricity system, even if they are less efficient individually.

Although the measures headed for the president's desk after yesterday's voice vote contain far fewer energy-saving measures than the full Portman-Shaheen efficiency bill, it is a step forward for what we and many others believe is the nation's quickest, cheapest way to reduce emissions from electricity generation.

Going backward

While the bill that passed yesterday represents a good step forward for energy efficiency policy, passage comes as House Republicans begin to dismantle clean energy programs. Today House appropriators are set to mark up an energy and water spending bill that reflects the Republican leadership's goal of shifting funding from smarter, cleaner energy resources to fossil fuel research. The Republican bill would cut the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) by about a 14 percent ($279 million), even while Americans continue to show support for investing in clean energy and energy efficiency.

Sadly, this slashes funding to programs like the DOE Appliance Standards and Equipment Program that have brought decades of benefits to consumers and industry, alike. House Republicans have used the appropriations process to signal their opposition to increased renewable energy funding and support for spending on fossil fuel programs. The legislation would fund DOE's fossil energy research and development efforts at $605 million, an increase of $34 million from fiscal 2015 levels. Mature industries like coal and oil shouldn't continue to see more funding for research and development at the expense of clean energy.

Also included in the bill are damaging policy riders designed to undermine Clean Water Act protections and stop a collaborative approach to ocean management. These provisions are known as "riders" because they ride along on a spending bill even though they have no impact whatsoever on the level of government spending. They prevent the government from using money to carry out its responsibility to implement aspects of specific laws; they don't change the amount of money or personnel the government has. Last year's bill had many of them and it is expected today's markup will continue that trend--with specific attacks on energy efficiency standards and the federal government's ability to address climate change.

But the assault on clean energy doesn't end there. The House Science Committee introduced a bill to reauthorize the National Science Foundation, while cutting funding authorization for EERE research and development by almost $500 million compared to current funding--a hefty 29 percent decrease. The bill also would cut authorized funding in half for the Advanced Research Project Agency--Energy (ARPA-E) which supports research in innovative, transformational clean energy technologies in their earliest stages of development.

Using energy smarter in our buildings and appliances saves Americans money and improves the air we breathe. Every home, building, and appliance we make more efficient cuts carbon pollution and moves the nation closer to a more stable and prosperous future. We need to stop cutting funding to clean energy programs that work and instead continue passing clean energy policies that Americans want.