Shaheen-Portman: The low drama bill with huge benefits

Blog Post | May 05, 2014 - 2:37 pm
By Lowell Ungar, Senior Policy Advisor

The Senate has returned to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill it dropped last fall, and has resumed fighting over amendments to it. In the midst of the battles over Keystone XL, EPA, LNG, and ACA (or, for the uninitiated: an oil pipeline, pollution standards, natural gas exports, and the Affordable Care Act), it’s easy to forget that there is an energy efficiency bill in there that does not get much press attention or warrant a three-letter moniker. Why? Because nobody is fighting over it!

The Shaheen-Portman bill (S. 2262) is not only sponsored by a Democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and a Republican, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, but is also cosponsored by another six Democrats and six Republicans, including the chair and ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, and has passed that committee by a 19-3 vote. This rare display of bipartisanship continued when the senators worked together to add more than half a dozen jointly sponsored provisions earlier this year.

But the lack of controversy around the energy efficiency measures does not mean the bill does not matter. ACEEE estimates that, if enacted, Shaheen-Portman will support more than 190,000 added net jobs in 2030, achieve 12 quadrillion Btus of energy savings through 2030, save consumers almost $100 billion over that time period, and cut carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 as much as taking about 22 million cars off the road. Energy efficiency receives such wide support because it helps consumers, the economy, the environment, and energy security all at the same time.

How? By doing more with less, meeting people’s need for heat, cold, light, and electronics while using less energy. The measures in Shaheen-Portman include provisions to:

  • Help states improve their building energy codes and implement them more effectively;
  • Consider the energy efficiency of homes when underwriting mortgages to recognize that families that pay lower energy bills can afford a slightly higher mortgage payment;
  • Strengthen federal assistance to industry to improve competitiveness by making plants more efficient; and
  • Other provisions, including on public energy use information for commercial buildings and on efficiency in federal data centers, schools, and more.

On a bipartisan basis, the House has already passed a smaller package of some of these provisions, which would allow a House-Senate conference committee to work out a final bill.

All these measures are just a first step toward achieving the vast benefits available through energy efficiency. The nation’s energy productivity, the amount of goods and services we get for each unit of energy, has doubled since the mid-1970s, and a recent report commissioned by the Alliance to Save Energy says we can double it again by 2030, with monetary savings, more jobs, and cleaner air. Shaheen-Portman won’t get us all the way there, but it will help—as long as Congress does its part rather than getting tripped up by a bunch of three-letter acronyms.