EFFICIENCY ADVOCATES PRESS SENATE TO SPLIT UP SHAHEEN-PORTMAN MEASURE

U.S. Capitol With Smokestack Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Advocates of a long-stalled energy efficiency bill are pushing the Senate to split the legislation up and act on components of the measure that were passed by the House earlier this year.

The strategy—which could occur during the lame duck session of Congress after the November elections—may represent the best chance for the legislation (S. 2262), which has languished in the Senate because of a broader fight over what amendments would be allowed to the bill.

“It would be great if we could actually get something for two years of effort,” Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, who supports the idea, told Bloomberg BNA. “They should have no problem in the Senate as long as you can get the floor.”

The legislation would require the Energy Department to provide assistance to states adopting energy standards, require the development of new Tenant Star and Supply Star energy efficiency recognition programs and facilitate a third-party certification process within the existing Energy Star program.

House Action.

While the Senate has delayed action on the bill, which is backed by companies such as Dow Chemical Co. and investor-owned utility National Grid, the House has quietly approved several of the legislation's most noncontroversial parts under an expedited procedure known as suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage.

They include H.R. 4066, which would loosen energy efficiency standards for so-called grid-enabled water heaters; H.R. 540, which would increase energy efficiency in government data centers; and H.R. 3820, which would encourage energy efficiency benchmarking in commercial buildings.

Those bills were incorporated into the Better Buildings Act (H.R. 2126), which passed the House on a 375-36 vote in March, and would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a Tenant Star program to promote energy efficiency in commercial spaces leased to tenants. That program would be similar to the existing Energy Star energy efficiency labeling program for appliances.

In addition, the House in June passed by voice vote legislation (H.R. 4092) that would require the Energy Department to establish a clearinghouse to disseminate information regarding available federal programs and financing mechanisms that may be used to help initiate, develop and finance energy efficiency, distributed generation and energy retrofitting projects for schools. That bill was considered a possible amendment to Shaheen-Portman on the Senate floor.

Senate Authors Considering.

“The House has had great bipartisan success in advancing a number of commonsense energy efficiency bills, but the Senate has sadly failed to hold a single vote,” House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton said in a statement. “My hope is that Harry Reid and the Senate will finally embrace the House's success so we can see these bills become law.”

While both Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the authors of the Senate energy efficiency bill—known formally as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act—said they would consider the idea of splitting up the bill, neither offered a full-throated endorsement of the concept.

“In general it is not a good idea to split the bill apart,” Shaheen said in an interview. But she added without elaborating, “I know there are a couple of pieces that need to be done.”

“Senator Portman would like to see action on energy efficiency in the lame duck session and is working with his colleagues to evaluate the best path forward,” an aide to the senator told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

Loss of Republican Support?

Breaking apart the bill could lead to the loss of some Republican support, since certain pieces were added as part of a version reintroduced in February to garner Republican support, said Kateri Callahan, president of the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), which represents companies such as light bulb maker Koninklijke Philips NV and LG Electronics and is a backer of the legislation.

“What we'd like is for the whole package to get through, but no one is going to look a gift horse in the mouth,” Callahan told Bloomberg BNA. “Our hope is they go for the whole enchilada and they get it.”

The bill, which the ASE says would save an estimated $16.2 billion annually, create 192,000 jobs and avoid 95 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, failed by a vote of 55-36 after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to allow Republican amendments that would have blocked the EPA from regulating emissions from power plants and expedited the approval process for overseas natural gas exports, among other measures.

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