While people across the country continue to bemoan Congress and its sclerotic dysfunction, sometimes you just have to find a silver lining. For energy consumers, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act may just be that bright spot in an otherwise gloomy outlook.
Many energy-efficiency technologies and practices offer energy consumers a cost-effective means of lowering their energy bills. In a report issued earlier this year by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, existing technologies could help American consumers save more than $1 trillion on their energy bills in the next 15 years. The report indicated that the biggest barrier to consumer adoption of energy efficiency was lack of information.
The Shaheen-Portman bill could help expand private adoption of energy-efficient technologies by better promoting their use through enhanced workforce development, private-public collaboration and financial incentives. This bill also allows the federal government — the largest U.S. energy consumer — to lead by example. By adopting energy-saving techniques for government buildings and computer systems, the federal government could significantly reduce its energy bill, helping to save millions of dollars for the taxpayer.
It’s reassuring to see Congress working in a bipartisan fashion to advance some commonsense measures, and energy efficiency isn’t the only area where bipartisan compromise is possible. Just look at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee leadership duo of Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Under their guidance, the Senate has passed 14 bills originating in the committee this session, an astounding feat considering the perception of congressional gridlock. Moreover, Sens. Murkowski and Wyden, along with Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, have introduced bipartisan legislation that seeks to overcome the gridlock on the nation’s nuclear waste management policy by providing a sensible path forward to safely store and eventually dispose of spent fuel. It’s entirely possible that we could see additional bipartisan compromise on smaller energy-related bills, particularly with regards to expanded hydroelectric power, STEM education and nuclear energy.
Although we can find some shining examples of bipartisan compromise, Congress’ inability to act on the most pressing energy issues of today puts American consumers at risk. Whether it is reform to our nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard or expanded access to abundant oil and natural gas resources on federal lands and waters, Congress currently lacks the ability to successfully address our nation’s energy future. Surprisingly, it’s not a lack of interest in advancing energy legislation that is holding Congress back. Rather, the biggest challenge may in fact be that the members have so much interest in energy issues that it could prove difficult to agree on what measures are brought to the floor and what the rules on amendments are. Hopefully, bipartisan leadership on measures such as the Shaheen-Portman bill will help pave the way for Senate and House leaders to pursue more bipartisan energy bills.
David Holt is president of the Consumer Energy Alliance.