Energy Efficiency: A Rare Bipartisan Consensus
In the Trump era, deregulation and less federal interference was supposed to prevail at almost every turn, especially when it came to environmental protections. Fortunately, Congress has pushed back against proposed shrinking of federal responsibilities that would hit the type of environmentalism that’s supported by both Democrats and Republicans: energy efficiency.
Last month, the president signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that funds the federal government for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends September 30. Federal agencies now have their full-year funding, allowing them to proceed with projects that already had been approved.
The legislation was surprisingly passed with votes from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress. Even more shocking is that the legislation broadly rejected the administration's proposals to downsize or even eliminate several important energy-related programs. And in some instances, the bill even provided more money than the Obama administration allocated.
The U.S. Department of Energy gets a major funding boost under the legislation. Its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, for example, will receive $2.3 billion, an increase of about $230 million compared to fiscal 2017. The legislation also suggests what the office’s priorities should include additional energy-efficiency research into solid state lighting and residential smart-grid systems – both major energy efficiency initiatives.
The budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, which the administration wanted to cut by more than 30 percent, will largely remain intact. More to the point, the spending bill completely dropped the administration’s proposal to eliminate the Energy Star and the WaterSense programs. Both programs have strong bipartisan backing and for excellent reasons: They are public-private partnerships that not only save limited natural resources but also money.
Energy Star, a voluntary, government-backed program, has helped individuals and businesses protect the environment through increased energy efficiency since 1992. Energy-efficient appliances, products and buildings that meet a high-performance standard earn the right to display the widely respected Energy Star label. The EPA estimates that this program has saved American families and businesses an eye-popping $430 billion on their energy bills.
WaterSense, similar to Energy Star, is a label that designates products that save water as well as energy. WaterSense-labeled products and services are certified to use at least 20 percent less water, save energy and perform as well as or better than regular models, according to the EPA.
Companies and organizations of many kinds worked hard to persuade lawmakers to maintain these vital programs. Their continuation is a victory for businesses and consumers alike because they will continue to be encouraged to save energy and water in ways that lower their utility bills and save natural resources.
But that’s not all. The bill includes a 12.5 percent increase in low-income housing tax credits, which will be an additional spur to rehabilitation and new construction of rental housing for low-income families. Without this incentive, these families would struggle to afford such energy- and money saving renovations.
Not many observers of federal policy would have predicted that these programs would have survived, but they all have something in common. They create savings that far exceed what the government spends on them. Business groups and environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives all agree that they need to continue.
In a matter of months, Congress will again be faced with a decision about the future of these programs and others like them. And they should say yes. In fact, Congress should direct the Department of Energy to invest in late-stage initiatives of all kinds that promote innovation and efficiency. These will pay dividends both here in the U.S. and position our companies and technology to compete around the world.