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Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill Gains More Support — Could Congress Pass It?

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"Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill Gains More Support — Could Congress Pass It?"

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The Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress.

CREDIT: shutterstock

A comprehensive energy efficiency bill that had previously stalled last year has been reintroduced by the bipartisan duo of U.S. senators who created it — and this time, they think the bill has a real shot of getting the 60 votes it needs to pass the Senate.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) hope the bill — called the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act but nicknamed “Shaheen-Portman” — will gain some real footing this time around. The reintroduced version of the bill also includes 10 new amendments, all with the aim of boosting energy efficiency in schools, commercial and residential properties, and federally-owned buildings.

“This bill has garnered such widespread support because of a simple fact — it is good for the economy and good for the environment,” Shaheen said in a Thursday statement announcing the bill’s revamp. “It’s part of an energy plan for America that can help bring the jobs back, help fix our trade deficit, help make our manufacturers more competitive, and actually help to protect the environment.”

The original premise of Shaheen-Portman was simple: create new energy-saving standards for buildings and homes, and do it in a way that both parties can agree with. The U.S. Senate hasn’t passed a major energy bill since 2007 for precisely that reason, but Shaheen-Portman seemed promising. Last year, it was backed by over 200 organizations including the U.S Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Through strengthening building codes for homes and commercial buildings, encouraging manufacturing and supply chain efficiency, and requiring the federal government to use energy savings techniques in its data centers, the first version of the bill purported to be able to provide cumulative net consumer savings of $59 billion over the 2012-2030 period and create 159,000 jobs by 2030. It also purports to be able to keep 95 million metric tons of carbon emissions from escaping into the atmosphere.

Now, the bill has 10 more bipartisan amendments and a number of additional sponsors, including Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). The amendments include efficiency retrofits on public low-income housing units and schools, and the establishment of a voluntary “Tenant Star” recognition program to promote energy efficiency achievements.

Though reintroduction has brought back a sense of excitement about the bill, it still faces uncertainty. Senate leadership has not yet indicated whether it would even bring the bill to the floor. Plus, the bill’s bipartisan status could be an unexpected burden. As the National Journal notes, upcoming midterm elections mean lawmakers “could be hesitant to hand the opposing party a win — even if it meant they could claim victory as well.”

The bill does have a companion version in the House, but Republican leaders have been particularly opposed to taking up any measures that would help solve the climate crisis. If that bill were considered, it would likely have to go through the notoriously anti-climate House Energy and Commerce Committee, which recently voted 24-20 against an amendment that would have stated conclusively that climate change exists. In total, the Republicans on the committee who voted to deny climate change have accepted about $9.3 million in career contributions from the oil, gas and coal industries, according to analysis by the CAP Action War Room.

Still, the House is expected to vote next week on a bipartisan energy conservation bill that surrounds the “Tenant Star” program that would be included in Sheehan-Portman. Sponsored by Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT), the Better Buildings Act would allow the Department of Energy to issue certifications to recognize energy efficiency in spaces leased by tenants.

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