When the GOP Hits the Fan (Plus the Furnace and Light Bulbs)--Efficiency Loses

Energy efficiency was a hot topic in Congress this week--and why shouldn't it be? Energy efficiency is delivering enormous value to Americans by creating jobs, lowering utility bills and cutting harmful pollution. But some members of Congress are trying to erect roadblocks to all the potential opportunities we have to save money and pollution through smarter energy use.

Both the House and Senate held hearings on energy efficiency legislation yesterday, some pieces of which would undermine the great efficiency progress we've made, even though policies and programs to help people use less energy is far cheaper than generating more of it to meet our needs.

I had the pleasure of testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce--Subcommittee on Energy and Power. The focus of the Subcommittee hearing was the recently released discussion draft on potential energy efficiency legislation, and I emphasize discussion draft.

NRDC has long supported energy efficiency as a critical component in meeting our energy demands and climate goals all while creating much needed jobs. And Americans support it, too. Take Illinois, where two-thirds of clean energy workers are employed in energy efficiency. And a recent poll showed that 70 percent of likely voters strongly support increased efficiency to meet the state's energy needs.

In state after state, polls show support for using efficiency to meet future energy needs is the same or higher--Pennsylvania (97%), Virginia (95%), Ohio (94%), and Michigan (92%), to name a few.

How did efficiency become a partisan issue?

As we've seen many times beginning in 1987 with the Energy Policy and Conservation Act signed by President Ronald Reagan, Congress can pass meaningful bipartisan energy efficiency legislation that serves to protect and empower Americans, saving them trillions on their utility bills and cutting harmful pollution. Just yesterday, President Obama signed into law the bipartisan Energy Efficiency Act of 2015, which includes a new Tenant Star voluntary labeling program to identify high-efficiency commercial spaces and also makes it possible for large water heaters to be used for energy storage. On the very same day, we saw efforts in both the House and Senate to undermine efficiency progress.

Although the draft bill discussed in the House hearing does include provisions that will save U.S. taxpayers money, as well as promote leadership in the federal government that will translate to innovation in the private sector, it is far from bipartisan. Unfortunately, some provisions would only serve to protect specific interests while undermining longstanding, highly effective federal programs.

As I detailed in my written testimony, we strongly oppose three provisions in the draft that seek to weaken, delay, and repeal strong clean energy programs that work and are what Americans want:

  • Section 4124 would block the Department of Energy from finalizing a much-needed update to the efficiency standards for non-weatherized gas furnaces that would save the average consumer $600 over the life of the furnace.
  • Section 4115 is counter-productive to cutting pollution in federal buildings because it would block the scheduled phase out of fossil fuels in them. The phase-out has enormous potential to cut pollution, and it's a place where the federal government can show leadership and leverage the enormous benefits of efficiency to reduce the $6 billion it spends on energy in its buildings.
  • And Section 4131 would hamstring the process for adopting model building energy codes that deliver valuable savings for homeowners and renters across the nation.

While the Subcommittee hearing was framed as a space where we can all work together, it only took House Republicans a few hours to begin attacking these very policies that are delivering tremendous value through lower utility bills and less pollution.

On the heels of the hearing, House Republicans began introducing amendments to the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Act, 2015 (H.R. 2028) to block or delay energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, ceiling fans, and residential furnaces. These amendments clearly show that the Republican energy plan is aimed at blocking legislation that helps their constituents save money and cut pollution.

Light bulbs

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) once again introduced an amendment to prohibit funding for any implementation or enforcement of light bulb energy efficiency standards. Passed by Congress in 2007 and signed into law by George W. Bush, these standards already have led to increased innovation that created an energy-saving light bulb that complies with federal standards available for every socket in America. As a result, U.S. consumers will be saving $13 billion per year. Blocking these standards also opens the door for foreign companies to introduce sub-standard light bulbs into the market. On top of that, this also puts energy-saving bulb assembly and manufacturing jobs at risk in America. In sum, Rep. Burgess has introduced an amendment that would encourage wasting energy and money, invite foreign companies to provide inferior products in our markets, and jeopardize American jobs.

Ceiling fans

Rep. Charles W. Dent (R-PA) introduced an amendment to stop the Department of Energy (DOE) from continuing with its congressionally mandated review of ceiling fan energy efficiency that began in March 2014. Updating these standards to a cost-effective minimum level of energy savings ensures we aren't needlessly wasting energy. It's time to let DOE move forward with its open and transparent stakeholder process and do so in a manner that allows manufacturers the flexibility to innovate and make even better products for consumers as we've seen time and time again from efficiency standards.


Republicans are also setting their sights on gas furnaces. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced an amendment that would stop DOE from finalizing a much-needed standard for gas furnaces. This proposal could deliver energy bill savings of up to $19 billion over 30 years beginning in 2012 and an estimated reduction of 127 million metric tons of carbon dioxide with highly efficient furnaces that are on the market today and already installed in many American homes.

NRDC has worked hard with stakeholders and other environmental groups to ensure that a long-overdue update maximizes cost effective energy savings, but House Republicans seem set on the status quo, which only harms consumers. Particularly vulnerable are renters, who tend to be lower-income households, because property owners can still buy cheaper, energy-wasting units while the tenants foot the higher monthly energy bills.

Through energy efficiency standards, American innovation is delivering new technology and opportunities that create jobs while reducing pollution and saving money. Why are Republicans against that?

The energy decisions we make today will shape the economic and environmental futures for generations to come. Americans need to push back on Congress's attempts to weaken and block the policies that are helping save money and protect the environment.