U.S. House of Representatives Energy Bill turned into Polluter Grab-bag

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a "so-called" energy bill last week that does little more for energy than prop up outdated policies and an increasingly uncompetitive fossil fuel industry while turning a blind eye to the forward-looking clean energy policies our nation needs. The bill also fails to address the need to act on climate change and instead will make the problem worse. Because of these problems, NRDC and 15 other environmental organizations opposed the bill.

H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, would lift the ban on crude oil exports, allow pipelines to cut through our national parks, broadly roll back laws and processes that protect the environment and public health, and handicap energy-saving measures designed to save U.S. consumers billions of dollars.

Under H.R. 8, even America's energy efficiency policies, which have long had bipartisan support, fall far short of the opportunity available to catalyze investments in this cheap, clean energy resource. In fact, this bill represents the first piece of legislation in recent history with an energy efficiency title that has the potential to increase energy consumption and cost Americans billions. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) roughly estimates that the energy efficiency section of this bill would increase energy use compared to current baselines by a whopping 20 quads through 2040 and cost consumers $20 billion extra on their energy bills.

In particular, the building energy codes provisions would weaken the current state and local building energy code development and adoption process and mandate a flawed, short-sighted metric in building energy codes costing consumers $23 billion over the next 25 years.

Building codes are the most-effective tool to ensure that efficiency is implemented when it is cheapest and easiest: when a building is first constructed. For instance, it is much cheaper and easier to add insulation before there is drywall up on the walls than it is to cut holes in the wall later. Building codes are particularly important because they protect homeowners by lowering the overall cost of home ownership. Given that homes will be around for decades, the short-sighted view of affordability in H.R. 8 is seriously flawed and fails to consider important financial elements, such as the way Americans buy homes.

Homes and buildings represent America's largest energy-consuming sector. Congress should be working hard to encourage states to adopt and enforce the building energy codes that boost efficiency and generate thousands of dollars in utility bill savings for residents; not undermine longstanding, effective programs. The building energy code development process is sound, transparent, and collaborative and has produced significant results benefitting all Americans.

More attacks on energy efficiency

Even though polls show Americans support energy efficiency measures, some members of Congress seem intent upon torpedoing energy-savings standards. Just last week, an amendment was offered by Rep. Burgess (R-TX-26) that would have repealed all state and federal efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, even though these standards have proved to be among the country's most successful energy policy tools, not only saving consumers money and cutting energy waste, but also sparking energy-saving innovations, creating jobs making energy efficient products, and reducing pollution.

The amendment was ruled out of order on this bill, but it is clear that similar attempts will be made in the future. It is hard to comprehend a proposal that seeks to eliminate a program that will reduce U.S. electricity consumption by 14 percent and save American consumers and businesses more than $1 trillion in utility savings by 2035--all while providing the same or higher level of comfort and performance. Without standards, cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities would be lost, leading to unnecessarily high energy bills, increased energy consumption, as well as allow inefficient products made abroad for foreign markets to flood the U.S. market, undermining American manufacturers and destroying U.S. jobs while increasing our utility bills.

Consumers can't tell from looking at the outside of a building or an appliance whether it will unnecessarily gobble energy and few energy efficiency policies are as impactful or far-reaching as robust building energy codes and appliance standards to prevent that.

While the average consumer might not realize how much time and effort are involved in developing codes and standards, the results are saving Americans money every single day, not to mention reducing energy waste and the carbon pollution warming our planet.

More controversial and contentious

What was once a bipartisan attempt to find common ground on an energy bill deteriorated quickly into a damaging partisan grab bag of polluter-driven provisions like lifting the crude export ban and opening the door to pipelines in our national parks. The Energy and Commerce Committee had originally included a handful of modest, positive provisions such as energy performance savings contracts for federal buildings, 21st century workforce development programs, and efforts to modernize our nation's aging energy infrastructure building on recommendations in the Quadrennial Energy Review. Unfortunately, those provisions were jettisoned during the legislative process, only to be replaced by the worst elements and an utter breakdown of consensus lawmaking.

Completely missing from the bill that passed is any attempt to address the impacts of climate change and help us meet our obligation to reduce carbon pollution and pass on a cleaner, healthier, safer planet to future generations. An amendment offered by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) requiring the Energy Information Administration to analyze and publish a report on the carbon impacts of the bill before it takes effect, failed to be included. Instead, the legislation locks in fossil fuel generation for decades to come, ignoring the values shared by millions of Americans and the policies our nation needs to deliver a clean energy future.

About the Authors

Elizabeth Noll

Legislative Director, Energy & Transportation program

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