Saturday, April 20, 2013

More Good News - Legislation on Energy Efficiency

Alex Bluestone is a junior undergraduate studying political science and environmental policy at Washington University in St. Louis. Before attending Washington University, Alex was a student of public policy at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, where he first became interested in environmental policy. Alex also has a diverse work background in addition to his academic foundation, which includes internships at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and, somewhat surprisingly, at the nation’s second largest coal company. In addition, Alex was a delegate to the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar. 

Last month, Itai Sened’s piece on a recent report filed by the EPA gave cause for rejoice. The EPA reported that C02 emissions rates had decreased while mile-per-gallon values had increased in American automotive production. As Dr. Sened pointed out, this report garnered little attention in the media. Another important step towards the mitigation of environmental harm has also flown under the radar: bipartisan compromise on energy efficiency legislation. 

We have all heard the term “energy efficiency,” but why is it not a topic of regular discussion in this country? China, India, and the European Union are all making headway on this policy. So why are we not? According to the IEA, energy efficiency has already saved the 11 EIA countries 63% since 1974. What’s more, it is projected that by 2035, C02 could be abated by 53% from energy efficiency alone—more than renewables and biofuels combined.

Obviously, we should not be so quick to pass on energy efficiency. Its benefits are worth more than the investment it requires. It appears to be a low-hanging fruit in that it is a simple, low-cost way to reduce energy consumption and, therefore, the slew of problems that inevitably arise as a result of said consumption. This includes greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), high energy prices, and environmental damages.

According to Pace Law Center, energy policy in the U.S. has focused on three major goals: a secure supply of energy, low energy costs, and protection of the environment. One of the easiest ways to ensure these three goals is by ramping up energy efficiency. In simplest terms, this describes the process by which the nation’s consumption of energy cuts out waste to the furthest extent possible. For instance, many states offer tax credits for weatherization and insulation efforts in private homes, both of which offer reductions in energy consumed for heating and cooling during peak energy demand seasons (winter and summer).

While energy efficiency is a no-brainer for most environmentalists, it is a step that has not yet fully been taken in the American energy policy setting—something that shows our nation’s lag behind other industrialized, Western nations. The vast majority of states still have poor energy efficiency standards, however. There are some promising updates on Capitol Hill.

In the 112th Congress, several measures helped to drum support for energy efficiency. For instance, this was seen in the sweeping energy efficiency legislation found in a bill co-authored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH). A new version of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act would help businesses create jobs and consumers reduce energy costs by creating a national energy efficiency strategy.

In the 113th, this has also been considered to be one of the most promising areas for potential bipartisan compromise. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, started the current session with S. 52, the Promoting Efficiency and Savings in Government Act. S. 52 builds on current efforts to improve energy efficiency and emissions reductions by requiring the General Services Administration (GSA) to identify additional efficiency improvements in buildings it owns and leases. The GSA is additionally required to report to Congress and the public on energy and cost savings.

It is examples such as these that demonstrate the ease with which energy efficiency can pass the Senate. It makes economic, environmental, and political sense. According to a Pace analyst, “Overall, by targeting an issue that is low-hanging fruit, success in this regard could yield a model for bigger initiatives to come.”

Specifically, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act would help states that currently have low energy efficiency standards catch up to states with more robust programs. In addition, getting the GSA to improve energy efficiency standards would go a long way to reducing the federal government’s expenditures on energy and the emissions that necessarily follow from inefficient use. No matter what shape future policies may take, it is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. needs to adopt more plans geared towards increasing energy efficiency at the national level.

Energy efficiency holds a great deal of potential for increased consumer welfare and the repercussions associated with the negative externalities caused by unchecked emissions. While clean energy like wind and solar promise to deliver desirable results, energy efficiency is a concept in which investment is also key. In fact, the two policies compliment each other quite well in the effort to reduce emissions while consuming fuel in a smart way.


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