The 110th Congress, Insulation, and Energy Efficiency

Kara Saul Rinaldi

March 1, 2007

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate changed hands as control of both chambers was given to the Democratic Party after the midterm elections in November 2006. As a result, the 110th Congress that began work in earnest in January 2007 was ready to take on energy policy with a renewed vigor and sense of determination.

Fortunately, building-sector energy efficiency is not a particularly controversial energy issue, and it has champions and defenders on both sides of the aisle. In the first weeks of the 110th Congress, energy and energy efficiency were already front-and-center issues. Numerous bills were introduced that could directly or indirectly affect the insulation industry through tax incentives, funding for energy-efficient technologies, green building authorizations, and climate-change legislation. In addition, a new Select Committee on Climate Change was announced, hearings were scheduled, and strong statements from leadership filled the news media. All of this activity occurred before President Bush’s State of the Union address in late January (see “Bush’s Alternative Fuel Use Growth Initiative Represents Over $45 Billion in Capital Investment Over the Next 10 Years”) and the budget release in early February. Members of both the House and the Senate have been staking out their claims on energy issues and working to fulfill campaign promises to change the way the United States uses energy.

Key legislative initiatives of specific interest to the insulation industry already have been introduced in the Congress, with more expected in the coming months. The change in leadership in both the House and the Senate, coupled with congressional commitment to making energy a priority issue during 2007, will provide a tremendous opportunity for energy-efficiency advocates to educate policymakers about the important role that insulation plays in reducing energy use.

Key Legislation That Could Affect the Insulation Industry

Several key bills were introduced in January in the U.S. House of Representatives. These include the following:

  • H.R. 6—CLEAN Energy Act of 2007. The most important move for energy efficiency in the first month of the 110th Congress was when the House Democratic leadership pushed through the final piece of the “100 Hours” legislation, H.R. 6, by a vote of 264 to 163. Introduced by Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W. Va.) and others, the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007 seeks to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil through investment in clean, renewable, and alternative energy sources. The bill creates a “strategic energy efficiency and renewables reserve” to invest in alternative energy and to accelerate the use of clean domestic renewable energy resources and fuels; to promote the use of energy-efficient products; and to increase research for energy-efficiency and renewable technologies. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, has announced plans to place the bill directly onto the Senate calendar for consideration and amendment. However, Senate passage of the legislation as written is not assured.
  • H.R. 84—Energy Efficient Buildings Act of 2007. Introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), H.R. 84 establishes a pilot program, to be implemented through the Department of Energy (DOE), that will award grants to businesses and organizations for the new construction of energy-efficient buildings or for major renovations of buildings to improve their energy efficiency. The bill authorizes $10 million per year for 5 years to carry out this program.
  • H.R. 85—Energy Technology Transfer Act. Introduced by Rep. Biggert (R-IL), H.R. 85 creates a network of Advanced Energy Technology Transfer Centers that will meet needs and opportunities for increased energy efficiency in both manufactured and site-built homes, including construction, renovation, and retrofit.
  • HR 121-High—Performance Green Buildings Act of 2007. Introduced by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), H.R. 121 requires the director of the General Services Administration (GSA) to establish a new Office of High-Performance Green Buildings, which will coordinate all federal offices, as well as a Green Building Advisory Committee. Studies conducted under this bill will include existing and new structures. The bill authorizes $4 million per year for 6 years to carry out this activity.
  • H.R. 539—Buildings for the 21stCentury Act of 2007. Introduced by Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-Pa.), H.R. 539 increases the amount of deductions for energy-efficient commercial buildings, and it extends the credit from December 31, 2008, to December 31, 2013.

The following key legislation was introduced in January in the Senate:

  • S. 6—The National Energy and Environmental Security Act of 2007. Introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), S. 6 would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and unsustainable energy sources in the following ways: 1) by requiring reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases; 2) by both diversifying and expanding the use of environmentally friendly energy supplies and technologies; 3) by reducing the burdens on consumers of rising energy prices; 4) by eliminating tax giveaways to large energy companies; and 5) by preventing price gouging, profiteering, and manipulating the market.
  • S. 280. Introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), S. 280 requires the DOE to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the deployment of energy-efficiency measures, including appropriate technologies, by large commercial customers by providing for audits. The program will encourage large users of electricity or natural gas to obtain energy audits by providing incentives.
  • S. 309—Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act. Introduced by Sen. Henry “Hank” Sanders (I-Vt.), S. 309 calls for the stabilization of global atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases below 450 parts per million (ppm). It also calls for an 80-percent decrease (compared to 1990’s levels) in global warming pollutants by 2050 by enacting a combination of mandatory reduction targets and incentives that will help develop clean alternative energies.
  • S. Res 30. Introduced by Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), S. Res. 30 states that the United States should act to reduce the risks posed by global climate change and should foster sustained economic growth. According to this bill, these goals should be accomplished in the following ways: 1) by participating in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with the objective of securing U.S. participation in agreements that advance and protect U.S. economic and security interests; 2) by establishing mitigation commitments by countries that are major emitters of greenhouse gases; 3) by establishing mechanisms to minimize the cost to participating countries; and 4) by achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, a bipartisan Senate observer group should be established to monitor international negotiations on climate change and ensure that the advice and consent function of the Senate is exercised.

While energy is a hot topic on Capitol Hill, it is not alone. The ongoing war in Iraq, health care, ethics reform, and other issues continue to capture the attention of both the Congress and the media. As a result, the future for energy policy in the 110th Congress is unclear. There are sure to be hearings and debate, but passage of new groundbreaking legislation may not occur until next year, or perhaps later. One thing is for certain: For those who are engaged in energy policy on Capitol Hill, 2007 is sure to be an exciting year.