Energy Efficiency: So Sensible, It Shines through Hyper-Partisanship

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Association of Manufacturers rarely find issues in common, but energy efficiency is just such a political wonder. It makes sense—energy efficiency is the cheapest, quickest way to cut energy waste, which is good for the country. It saves consumers money, creates jobs, spurs economic growth, reduces harmful pollution (including carbon emissions that fuel dangerous climate change) and strengthens the electricity grid.

Energy policy that helps us cut waste, save money and create jobs should be a priority for Congress, the Obama administration, and states—and is exactly the sweet spot for two unlikely allies to come together. Ross Eisenberg of the National Association of Manufacturers and I discussed the common ground we have found on energy efficiency in an op-ed Thursday in The Hill.

This week the U.S. Senate will turn back to consideration of a broad energy bill that contains some positive energy efficiency provisions. However, the overall bill currently poses very significant concerns because it contains several anti-environmental provisions that weaken important protections for our land, air, water, and public health.  NRDC can’t support the bill unless these measures are removed.

But, while NRDC and NAM disagree on many issues—including many parts of the energy bill—it is still heartening that we have been able to come together on energy efficiency and I want to thank Ross and NAM, which represents over 14,000 manufacturing companies, for the constructive engagement on this issue.

Why unlikely allies came together

NRDC and the National Association Manufacturers also have worked together in the past to promote energy efficiency. Our groups have backed reasonable energy efficiency standards for appliances, which have saved consumers $500 annually on their utility bills and will add up to $1.9 trillion by 2035. We’ve both supported Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs that allow homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements with repayments in property taxes, as well as the use of performance contracts to make federal buildings more energy efficient.

The energy efficiency provisions in S. 2012, which represent the core of the energy savings and carbon reductions estimated from the entire bill, build on the legislation originally introduced by  Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH). Chief among these provisions is the section establishing greater energy efficiency in homes and commercial buildings through strengthening the current process for states to adopt better building codes. 

Further, both our organizations would like to see the Senate pass an important amendment that would advance the long-supported Sensible Accounting to Value Energy (SAVE) Act, which would help homeowners use mortgage financing to make their homes more energy efficient.

Improving the efficiency of buildings

We both support the SAVE Act because of its potential to significantly reduce energy waste, save consumers money, and generate jobs. Championed by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who spent more than three decades in the real estate business, and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), the measure would give homebuyers credit for lower monthly utility costs when they buy (or refinance) a more energy efficient house with a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

As Senator Bennet recently told his Senate colleagues, cosmetic improvements like new countertops can increase a house’s value, but lenders also should account for such factors as an energy-efficient furnace, which can save homeowners thousands of dollars in the form of lower utility expenses. Doing so can help homebuyers pay for a house with better equipment via the mortgage.

The measure has drawn support from a diverse coalition that includes not only our groups but also the National Association of Realtors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Home Builders, the Alliance to Save Energy, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Consumer Federation of America and many others.

Sen. Isakson also pointed out the home construction industry is expected to benefit under the SAVE Act because borrowers will be able to finance the cost of new, more efficient homes with the mortgage, realizing even larger savings in lower utility bills.

Why energy efficiency is especially critical now

Energy efficiency has become more urgent because it is the fastest and cheapest—and still underutilized—way to reduce carbon pollution, and it saves businesses and homeowners money, spurs innovation and generates economic growth. It also enjoys strong public support across demographic and political lines.  We should continue to work hard—and together—to turn important energy efficiency initiatives like the SAVE Act into law.

About the Authors

Kit Kennedy

Senior Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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