Although conventional wisdom says Congress rarely accomplishes much in an election year, the Alliance to Save Energy hopes to prove energy efficiency policy can be an exception. Traditionally enjoying bipartisan support, recent examples of successful legislation include the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 — both signed by President George W. Bush after passage by bipartisan majorities in Congress. The Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization founded in 1977 by Sens. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) and Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), exemplifies energy efficiency’s broad appeal.

Energy efficiency draws wide support, because it meets many critical needs: jobs for American workers, savings for consumers/businesses, enhanced national security from lower energy imports, and environmental protection.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and long-time honorary Alliance board member, called for extension of clean energy tax incentives for manufacturers and consumers. He noted that manufacturing job growth is driving economic recovery, and that energy efficiency improvements to homes, commercial buildings, and industrial sites provide steady U.S. construction jobs and deliver savings to owners/occupants.

Through engineering advancements and new technologies, energy efficiency has become one of our greatest natural resources, saving more energy than the amount we actually use powered by oil, natural gas, coal, or nuclear power — and cutting our nation’s energy needs by nearly 50%.

As the Alliance works to advance energy efficiency in 2012, we are seeking action on two pending bills, one making its way through the Senate and a recently introduced complementary measure in the House of Representatives.

The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 1000) is cosponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), an Alliance honorary board vice chair, and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Upon the bill’s introduction, Sen. Shaheen commented, “It is effective, it is bipartisan, and it is affordable.”

Last year, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Energy Committee approved the bill 18-3; and the Alliance continues to urge Senate leaders to bring it to the floor. On February 15, Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced the Smart Energy Act (H.R. 4017).

Though not identical, both bills would use energy efficiency to help create private sector jobs, improve economic competitiveness, and reduce our nation’s energy use and costs. If adopted, the bills would help American manufacturers reduce energy use to save money and increase competitiveness. Each also calls on the nation’s largest energy user — the federal government — to do its part, requiring energy-saving measures for computers and other office equipment, better building standards, and smart metering technology. Together, they form the basis for Congress to move ahead with critically needed energy efficiency legislation.

The Shaheen-Portman bill relies on widespread adoption of commercially available technology to reduce energy use and create jobs in construction trades and in the manufacture and installation of building materials, computer-controlled thermostats, and energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment and windows.

S. 1000 encourages and supports efficiency in buildings — the sector accounting for 40% of U.S. energy use — by incentivizing states to adopt the latest model building energy codes. The newest version of the International Energy Conservation Code improves energy efficiency by 30% in America’s homes and commercial buildings to deliver years — even generations — of savings to homeowners and businesses.

The Bass-Matheson bill would boost private-sector investments in building efficiency upgrades by expanding the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program and use of Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs). Under ESPCs, private-sector companies make efficiency upgrades to federal agencies’ buildings at no cost to taxpayers and are paid with the resulting energy bill savings.

During their advocacy for congressional action on energy efficiency policy, the Alliance and other efficiency groups have been joined by an impressive list of like-minded private-sector companies of all sizes, environmental organizations, and public interest/faith-based organizations. This broad coalition gives us one more reason to remain hopeful, even in this strife-ridden election year, that energy efficiency will again demonstrate its bipartisan bona fides when Congress passes legislation that will benefit the entire nation.

Callahan is president of the Alliance to Save Energy, Washington, D.C.

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