Congress advances energy efficiency legislation

Washington – Recent actions in both the House of Representatives and the Senate advanced proposals to improve energy efficiency policy in the U.S.

WASHINGTON – Recent actions in both the House of Representatives and the Senate advanced proposals to improve energy efficiency policy in the U.S.

In the House, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released a "discussion draft" of energy and climate change legislation that contains many energy efficiency provisions. In the Senate, the Energy Committee approved four bills with energy efficiency components, including several strengthening amendments.

The House bill, called the American Clean Energy and Security Act, includes a cap and trade system to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The bill also contains a variety of energy efficiency provisions, including the following items:

• An energy efficiency resource standard that requires electric and natural gas distribution companies to operate programs that reduce electricity use by 15% by 2020 and natural gas use by 10%. Eligible measures include helping residential and commercial consumers reduce their energy use, energy-saving codes, standards, and combined heat power and recovered waste energy projects. This provision is based on H.R. 889, previously introduced by Markey.

• A new Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance program to promote comprehensive efficiency retrofits to homes and commercial buildings, reducing energy consumption by an average of 20% or more. This is based on H.R. 1778, previously introduced by Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

• Enactment of new minimum efficiency standards on six products: commercial furnaces; drinking water dispensers; portable lighting fixtures (floor and table lamps); outdoor lighting fixtures for streets and parking lots; hot tubs; and hot food holding cabinets (used to keep food warm before it is served).

• A variety of reforms to the federal appliance standards program, clarifying ambiguous language in current law and strengthening the ability of the Secretary of Energy to set standards that are "technically feasible" and "economically justified."

• A provision directing that building codes be strengthened to reduce energy use in new buildings by 30% starting in 2010 and 50% starting in 2016. A similar provision passed the House of Representatives in 2007.

• A provision establishing a building labeling program, so that owners, prospective purchasers and tenants can compare the energy use of a particular home or building to similar buildings in their local area.

• A provision requiring states to establish goals for transportation sector greenhouse gas reductions that will ensure an absolute decrease in emissions after a designated year. Metropolitan areas must submit plans to achieve these goals through strategies such as zoning and land use updates, improvements to non-auto modes and pricing measures.

• Requirements for EPA to promulgate greenhouse gas emission standards for heavy trucks, marine vessels, locomotives and aircraft.

• Authorization of EPA's SmartWay Transport Program, which will expand the role of that program in maximizing the efficiency of the nation's goods movement system.

"Energy efficiency policies are a key strategy for keeping the cost of climate change legislation to modest levels," stated Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "Efficiency policies and investments reduce the number of power plants that must be built or upgraded, substantially reducing the cost of a cap and trade program. The policies in ACESA go a long way toward accomplishing the efficiency savings we need."

The Senate Energy Committee approved four bills originally sponsored by Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (R-N.M.) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark.). The bills set new efficiency standards on portable lighting fixtures and commercial furnaces and address some problems in current appliance standards law. The bills also improve and establish federal programs to advance energy efficiency in the industrial sector, extend and expand several Department of Energy research and development workforce training programs, and promote best practices in the use of energy and water treatment and delivery, fuel refining and electricity generation.

The committee approved an amendment by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to adopt consensus commercial furnace standards into federal law.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning to complete work on the bills by the end of May while the Senate Energy Committee hopes to complete work by the end of April.