The Akron Beacon Journal
For a brief moment, early in the Obama presidency, Congress appeared ready to craft a national energy strategy. The centerpiece would be a cap-and-trade mechanism, originally a Republican idea, a market-oriented way to curb greenhouse gases. Then, the prospect of a consensus fell apart, polarization taking hold, influential energy interests holding sway.
Ever since, advocates have looked to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency taking the lead, under the Clean Air Act, or lawmakers moving forward in small yet significant steps. One encouraging example of the latter has gained momentum in the Senate. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, have been working for a while on legislation to achieve improved energy efficiency. On Wednesday, their proposal won overwhelming bipartisan approval in the Senate Energy Committee.
Shaheen and Portman have built a strong, wide-ranging coalition of supporters, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Hard to resist the logic of energy efficiency, a quick, clean and low-cost approach to saving power and reducing emissions. Hard also to miss the broad potential of its impact.
The International Energy Agency has proposed 25 recommended ways to boost energy efficiency. It estimates that if all were adopted globally, the resulting reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030 would equal 1.5 times the current U.S. annual carbon-dioxide emissions.
The Shaheen-Portman bill hardly is so ambitious. Yet it does represent an important advance, politically and in terms of energy and environmental policy. It would accelerate the use of energy-efficient technologies in homes, businesses and the federal government. Thus, it takes aim at areas ripe for progress, industrial and residential buildings driving 72 percent of electricity use, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Among other things, the bill calls for strengthening building codes for new homes and buildings. It would encourage private investment in efficiency improvements through the creation of a Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Financing Initiative. It opens the way to the Department of Energy working with business partners to route resources into research, development and commercialization of new technologies. It would establish a department program to help companies gain energy efficiencies in their supply chains.
The federal government rates as the largest user of energy in the country. Thus, the bill directs the federal officials to mobilize on multiple fronts, pursuing energy savings through updating buildings to promoting the use of vehicles fueled by natural gas and electricity.
Shaheen and Portman have navigated carefully through partisan straits, casting aside, for instance, expansion of an Energy Department loan program, too many echoes of Solyndra. The country must do more in energy research and innovation, not to mention in reducing greenhouse gases. Yet here is progress, something good for residents and businesses, promising substantial savings in the long run. The hope is, the committee vote signals passage soon in the Senate, and then in the House, both parties and both chambers recognizing the smart policymaking in energy efficiency.