How to Save a Trillion Dollars

According to the latest forecast from Weather Channel meteorologists, most of the country is in for a hot summer this year. This is more than a matter of personal discomfort. It also means skyrocketing energy bills, lost work days due to air pollution, and possibly heat-related deaths. As global warming continues unchecked, scientists predict that summer heat waves will become more frequent and extreme in the years ahead.

Staying cool under this kind of pressure means not only changing the way we produce energy--shifting away from polluting fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy--but also being more efficient in how we use it. While summer heat can be a big motivator for reducing your personal energy consumption (who wants to turn on the oven in an already sweltering kitchen?), some of the biggest home energy savings happen without us having to lift a finger. American consumers will save more than $1.1 trillion dollars in energy costs by 2035, thanks to government efficiency standards for appliances.

Household appliances are major energy consumers, and many of the items we use without thinking--computers, battery chargers, washing machines--waste a significant amount of power. The cost of this waste is hidden in our energy bills. Energy efficiency standards for appliances play a critical role in helping people keep costs down and the lights on.

In California, new efficiency standards for battery chargers, which typically waste about two-thirds of the energy they consume as heat, will save consumers $300 million in electricity costs, and enough electricity to power every home in San Jose for a year.

New federal standards for washing machines and dishwashers issued last month will save enough electricity to power 700,000 homes, and enough water to serve the needs of 3 million people. On top of last year's standards for dryers, refrigerators, freezers, room air-conditioners and other appliances, energy efficiency standards set by the Obama administration, many of them in agreement with manufacturers, will save the equivalent of 30 percent of our total annual energy use by 2035, just by making the things we plug in less wasteful.

Together, all our national energy efficiency standards will reduce electricity use 14 percent by 2035, and eliminate the global warming pollution produced by 118 coal-fired power plants.

It's mystifying that Republicans in the House are now attacking a program that will save more than a trillion dollars, a program that was signed into existence by Ronald Reagan, and strengthened under both Bushes. Energy efficiency standards save money for consumers, create jobs, and spur manufacturers to innovate and deliver better products. I don't think I've heard anyone longing for the refrigerators of yesteryear, or washing machines that use 40 gallons of water instead of 20.

Efficiency standards make our lives better, and they do it so seamlessly, so invisibly, that perhaps we've started to take them for granted. This is practical policy that has quietly, steadily been delivering benefits, to people and the nation as a whole, for decades. It shouldn’t be the subject of the Tea Party's ideological warfare. 

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