Front Porch Blog

VICTORY: Senate Committee Passes Energy Savings Act

With Overwhelming Bipartisan Support, the U.S. Senate Yesterday Began Moving a Common Sense Energy Efficiency Bill. Here’s Why We’re Celebrating.

Well, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Appalachian Voices all agree — it’s time for America to move forward with energy efficiency.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed the Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings Act (S 761) by a vote of 19-3. This legislation focuses on improving building codes, while increasing energy efficiency at the industrial level and for federal government facilities.

There was some very encouraging discussion on the bill (starting at 30:35-41:10, and picking up again at 42 minutes).

Democratic Chairman Sen. Ron Ryden of Oregon and Ranking Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were among those speaking in favor of the measure. Appalachia’s senators all voted AYE, including Republican bill sponsor Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Tennessee’s senior Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Appalachian Voices applauds these members in their pursuit to increase energy efficiency in our region.

Below is Appalachian Voices’ statement on passage of the bill, followed by the full vote count:

On behalf of our members, Appalachian Voices strongly supports the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 761). Since much of the region’s economy depends on the manufacturing and industrial sectors, this Act will provide significant benefits for Appalachian businesses, communities and local economies. These benefits include reduced energy costs, increased competitiveness, economic development and job creation, and healthier communities. As we expand our recently-launched Energy Savings for Appalachia program, our goal will be to serve as a partner to state and local governments who would benefit from the opportunities provided by this Act.

Appalachian Voices applauds the collaborative, bi-partisan nature of this legislation. For too long, partisan conflict has negatively impacted our ability to maximize our nation’s economic potential. That potential is directly tied to the efficient use of resources and energy. In addition, impacts to the environment and to the health of our citizens resulting from the extraction and consumption of fossil-fuels have a direct negative impact on the economy. Therefore, it is refreshing to know that our elected representatives have found common ground with the understanding that a strong economy is an efficient economy.

The requirements and models laid out in the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act provide a strong boost for energy efficiency, which has long been promoted as the “low-hanging fruit” for energy development. As recognized by the Act, energy-efficient technologies are already available, and are extremely cost-effective, paying for themselves over a short period of time. The Act also recognizes that strengthening our economy through improvements in energy efficiency is also a long-term investment, one that requires research and development, workforce training, and strong financial incentives for businesses.

While we fully support the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act as currently written, Appalachian Voices believes that the bill could be strengthened in the following ways:

1) Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) plan to offer an amendment to the bill that would direct the Secretary of Energy to establish a pilot program to award grants to nonprofit organizations to make energy-efficiency improvements to their buildings. Because many of the current incentives for energy efficiency are found in the tax code, it has historically been difficult for nonprofit organizations to fund such improvements. This amendment would enable local governments to invest in more energy-efficient buildings. For the many rural local governments across Appalachia that are facing rising energy costs and reduced budgets, such an amendment would provide a significant boost to local economic development efforts.

2) The 2011 version of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act established the Rural Energy Savings Program, a low-interest loan program for customers of rural electric cooperatives to pay for energy efficiency improvements for their homes or small businesses. The provision to the 2011 bill would have leveraged $2 billion in federal loans to be paid back through savings on electricity bills. The program has been excluded from the current version of the Act, and is instead tied up in the federal Farm Bill. This ties the fate of the Rural Energy Savings Program to the intense negotiations over the Farm Bill. Given the potential and significant benefits of the program for rural homes and businesses all across Appalachia and the U.S., we recommend that the Rural Energy Savings Program be re-inserted into the current version of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act.

3) The Act establishes university programs aimed at worker training and capacity building at institutions of higher education that, “to the maximum extent possible,” have or may establish Industrial Assessment Centers. In Appalachia, very few such Centers currently exist, and workforce training for much of the population is conducted at community colleges or through state offices. Therefore, we recommend that a provision be inserted that provides workforce training and assessment support for community colleges. The programs to be supported should be the same as those currently outlined in Section 111(a) of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act.

Appalachian Voices urged an AYE vote — here’s how they voted:

19 AYE – 3 NAY
Ron Wyden (D-OR) – AYE
Tim Johnson (D-SD) – AYE
Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) – AYE
Maria Cantwell (D-WA) – AYE
Bernard Sanders (I-VT) – AYE
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) – AYE
Mark Udall (D-CO) – AYE
Al Franken (D-MN) – AYE
Joe Manchin (D-WV) – AYE
Christopher A. Coons (D-DE) – AYE
Brian Schatz (D-HI) – AYE
Martin Heinrich (D-NM) – AYE
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – AYE
John Barrasso (R-ID) – AYE
James E. Risch (R-ID) – AYE

Mike Lee (R-UT) – NO
Dean Heller (R-NV) – AYE
Jeff Flake (R-AZ) – NO
Tim Scott (R-SC) – NO
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) – AYE
Rob Portman (R-OH) – AYE
John Hoeven (R-ND) – AYE

Raised on the banks of the Tennessee River, JW's work to create progress in his home state and throughout Appalachia has been featured on the Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Kos and Grist. He served first as Appalachian Voices’ Legislative Associate and then Tennessee director until leaving to pursue a career in medicine in 2012.


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