Attempts to Cut Energy Waste Aid Everyone—Even Trump

“I strongly believe in clean energy, in conserving energy, all of that—more than anybody.”

Donald J. Trump, quoted in a fact sheet about a 2012 energy efficiency project at a Trump-branded apartment building in White Plains, New York, as reported recently in the New York Times.

Given recent events, that supportive quote from our president may have you scratching your head. But the New York Times is reporting that in 2012, real estate developer Donald J. Trump understood the benefits of energy efficiency programs well enough to take advantage of one that now helps owners and residents in one of his Trump-branded buildings save a whopping $300,000 a year on their energy bills, all while cutting down on the pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels.

Similarly, within a week of being confirmed as secretary of Energy, Rick Perry tweeted that "innovators like the ones supported by our ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Administration-Energy) programs are key to advancing America's energy economy." He might want to check with his boss, because this sentiment was not reflected in last week's Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which zeroes out ARPA-E among other programs.

In fact, this administration consigned to the chopping block a host of federal clean energy and energy efficiency programs that bring significant value to all Americans and to the businesses that employ us. For that, this budget proposal should not stand and we must fight to keep clean energy programs in the federal budget, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program, and to fully fund the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Trump Watch: NRDC tracks the Trump administration’s assaults on the environment

More than anybody?

NRDC doesn't agree with the president on much these days. But we and he both know that local, state, and federal government programs that cut energy waste are a win for everyone. Not only do they save consumers and businesses money on energy, prevent massive amounts of pollution, and create good-paying jobs, they also spur technological innovation and economies of scale, helping to make U.S. companies competitive in the global clean energy marketplace. No wonder more than 18,000 private and public participants have partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program, which labels some of the nation’s most efficient products, buildings, and manufacturing facilities, and more than 700 American companies have urged the new administration to follow through on the commitments the United States made as part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Impressive track record

These programs have an impressive track record and have driven gains in energy efficiency that cannot be overstated: To date, for instance, third-party evaluations have assessed one-third of the U.S. Department of Energy’s energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development portfolio, and found that a taxpayer investment of $12 billion over a period of many years has already yielded an estimated net economic benefit to the United States of more than $230 billion, with an overall annual return on investment of more than 20 percent. As the president might say, that’s “yuge.”

In fact, the Trump-branded building in White Plains that got New York State energy efficiency incentives is just one small example of what we can expect on a larger scale if federal and state governments continue and expand their support for energy efficiency. Not only are residents and owners of the 200-plus unit building now saving about $300,000 a year on their electric and heating bills, the building reduced its energy use by 21 percent and the project paid for itself in just three years. Since then, the savings have been pure gravy.

In 2015, the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program saved consumers, businesses, and organizations a mind-blowing $34 billion on energy, all on a shoestring budget of $57 million. Talk about return on taxpayers’ investment! Yet, the Trump administration’s proposed budget slates it for elimination, too, for reasons that are obviously more ideological than practical.

Similarly, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative (BBI), a public-private partnership, is a perfect example of just what these kinds of programs can do on an even grander scale. A voluntary program designed to help participating buildings reduce energy use by 20 percent by 2020 and overcome “the barriers that prevent many organizations and consumers from capturing [energy efficiency] benefits,” BBI has, in just four years, saved consumers and businesses a whopping $1.3 billion on energy costs; saved 2.1 billion gallons of drinkable water; and, avoided 10 million tons of carbon emissions—about the amount produced by 1.9 million cars in one year.

Even Energy Secretary Rick Perry acknowledged during his confirmation hearing that he “believes that DOE can provide constructive information about energy efficiency building technologies to building owners and to the states so that states and local governments use that information to help address their needs.” Keeping appropriate funding at DOE for energy efficiency and other clean energy initiatives will be important to enable this kind of work.

Estimates are that, on average, America’s buildings waste at least 30 percent of the energy they use, costing owners and renters serious money. Most of this waste can be eliminated through easy, cost-effective changes to buildings’ equipment and mechanical systems and the ways that they are operated. The impact of these small changes add up, especially as buildings are responsible for almost 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution. Energy efficiency programs delivered by the federal government, states, and local communities in partnership with businesses help buildings realize these energy savings and lower their costs, with the added benefit of reducing our carbon footprint.

Not so long ago, President Trump knew the benefits of clean energy, of conserving energy, “more than anybody.” If he wants to stay true to his stated mission to improve our country’s economic wellbeing, create new jobs, and make government work better for Americans, he should remember those benefits of clean energy again, and Congress should spare the programs and funding the federal government uses to promote them so well. 

About the Authors

Elizabeth Noll

Legislative Director, Energy & Transportation program

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