Congress Poised to Act on Energy Efficiency

Last Updated:
Fri, 2013-08-23 09:10

One of the critical issues to be addressed by President Obama’s climate action plan is improved energy efficiency. As Congress struggles to move forward on energy policy, the President is using existing legislative authority to establish new efficiency standards for appliances, equipment, trucks, and manufactured homes. But comprehensive reform is still needed, and despite political roadblocks, Congress is still relevant to the climate action process. In fact, when it comes to the battle against climate change through energy efficiency, congressional leaders will be called upon after summer recess to debate critical legislation that was introduced just before the session break.


During a time when Congress has been notably slow or unable to pass legislation, one bill in particular is highly anticipated for its broad bi-partisan support. The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, now better known as the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, is expected to go before Congress as the official order of business on the Senate floor when members return on September 9th.

The main targets of the bill are residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, due to their known potential for energy savings. The bill contains a combination of incentives and other mostly voluntary measures intended to encourage adoption of efficiency technologies. Among the main objectives of the bill are: strengthening building codes for homes and commercial buildings; establishing education programs for engineers, architects, and building scientists; establishing programs to encourage manufacturing and supply chain efficiency; and one mandate requiring the federal government to use energy savings techniques in its data centers.

A few characteristics of the Shaheen-Portman energy bill worth noting:

  • The bill has already gone through several iterations since first being introduced in 2011.
  • This is the first energy bill to come to the floor since 2007.
  • Although the bill has some critics, it does have broad bi-partisan support as well as support from the business community and environmentalists.
  • The bill will likely take some time to evolve before being passed since it is expected that companion bills and amendments will be tacked on.
  • The bill is not intended to be a comprehensive energy bill, but it aims to reduce carbon emissions with targeted energy efficiency programs and minimal government spending.
  • According to a preliminary analysis by ACEEE, the Shaheen-Portman bill is an opportunity to avoid 9.5 quadrillion BTUs of energy over the years 2014-2030. For reference, the U.S. consumes 100 quadrillion BTUs per year.

As one of the bill’s drafters, Senator Shaheen of New Hampshire, so simply put it, “The cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use.” The bill represents a very important first step in a direction that makes sense for the economy and the environment. It could be the common ground lawmakers need to prove that Congress can be effective in energy policymaking. The potential is there. Can Congress make it happen? Or will the bill get bogged down in another political game of tug of war? The next session of Congress will tell.

photo credit: wallyg via photopincc

By Amy Malloy