Renewed Push on Energy Efficiency Bill, But It’s Not Over Yet

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There is little to get excited about in Congress these days, but the reintroduction of a bipartisan energy efficiency bill is welcome news. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) reintroduced their marquee energy efficiency bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, with the addition of ten bipartisan amendments and ten new sponsors (five Republicans and five Democrats) in an effort to demonstrate broad support and garner the 60 votes necessary to pass anything.

With the addition of specific provisions aimed at improving energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings, schools and federal buildings located in communities, among others, NLC is pleased to offer our support. NLC urges Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act up to the Senate floor for consideration, and we urge all senators to support the bill.

The building sector accounts for 39 percent of the nation’s energy use, 72 percent of its electricity use, one third of all global greenhouse gas emissions and represents the single largest, most accessible opportunity for deep emissions cuts in the United States. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is the most cost-effective way to achieve reduction goals; it will save homeowners and businesses money by reducing utility bills and create thousands of local jobs.

With regard to homes, the average homeowner spends more than $2,500 each year on energy costs – more than on either real estate taxes or homeowners insurance, both of which are regularly accounted for in mortgage underwriting. On average, these energy costs amount to more than $70,000 over the life of a 30-year mortgage. That’s why NLC is particularly pleased that the reintroduced bill includes the Sensible Accounting to Value Energy (SAVE) Act, sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). This provision will provide lenders and homeowners with more flexible federal mortgage underwriting rules that would include a home’s expected energy cost savings when determining the value and affordability of the home. The SAVE Act will address the blind spot in mortgage lending, giving a more complete picture of the costs of homeownership and a borrower’s capacity to service debt. Over time, the bill will drive growth in energy efficient home construction and energy efficiency upgrades in existing homes.

This energy efficiency bill is critical to helping cities meet their overall sustainability goals, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is a positive example of bipartisanship that will have a tremendous impact on cities and ripple effect throughout the economy. But first, cities need Congress to act.

Without getting too much into the messy details, the fact is the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act was on the Senate floor last September but fell victim to the amendment debate and the need to focus on debit and appropriations issues. While Sens. Shaheen and Portman believe they now have the votes, the Majority Leader has not yet made a commitment to bring it back to the Senate floor for a vote and non-germane amendments could once again be an issue. But let’s savor the bipartisan effort for now and work toward a positive outcome.

When you are in DC next week for the NLC Congressional City Conference, please tell your senators that you support the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, ask them to ask Sen. Reid to bring it up to the floor for a vote, and ask them to support the bill.