Although unstable energy prices and continued political unrest in many oil-exporting countries have caused many lawmakers to once again call on Congress to reform U.S. energy policy, serious legislative action during 2012 appears unlikely. The legislative gridlock that typically accompanies a presidential election year has forced energy policysometimes an issue that enjoys much bipartisan agreementsquarely to the back burner.
Also complicating energy politics is the sustained backlash following the September 2011 collapse of Solyndra LLC, the Fremont, Calif.-based solar energy technology manufacturer that received more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees before filing for bankruptcy.
Additionally, the current fiscal and budgetary constraints resulting from the U.S.' exploding debt and deficit have stalled progress on various policy efforts as Congress struggles to adopt spending and tax reforms. Many of the cuts made so far have come from renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs, and more cuts are likely to come.
For lawmakers seeking to improve U.S. energy policy in an efficient and fiscally responsible way and set the U.S. on a path toward energy independence, the primary task in the near-term political and budgetary environments is to find policies that can gain bipartisan support.
Although many new energy technologies require significant taxpayer risk, direct subsidies, tax breaks or loan guarantees to gain market penetration, improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings has been recognized as a way to decrease energy consumption with reduced taxpayer risk and investment. For the roofing industry, building energy efficiency creates jobs because contractors are hired to retrofit existing structures.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, buildings account for 36 percent of all U.S. energy use. Reducing this consumption will result in fewer imported fossil fuels and less need for taxpayer investment in other forms of energy, and money businesses save on energy bills can be reinvested in growth and job creation.
The key legislation addressing building energy efficiency currently in Congress is the "Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011" (S. 1000), introduced in May 2011 by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
S. 1000 would establish modest goals at the Department of Energy for strengthening building energy codes, provide market-based energy-efficiency financing options for manufacturers, and upgrade and improve the building energy management of the federal government.
Broad support has emerged for S. 1000, which repeatedly has been singled out as having the potential to gain the bipartisan support needed to become law.
The first major action on S. 1000 came in July 2011 when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill with strong bipartisan support by an 18-3 vote. Votes on other energy issues such as nuclear, coal and petroleum rarely achieve this level of bipartisan support.
In February, Reps. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced similar yet scaled-down legislation, the Smart Energy Act (H.R. 4017).
Most recently, in May, NRCA signed an industry letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring S. 1000 to the Senate floor for a vote this year. In the letter, the coalition contends the bill would provide more than $20 billion in net energy savings to U.S. households and businesses from 2012-30 and support a net increase of 159,000 jobs in 2030. Additionally, the letter notes the legislation would cut the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the U.S. by 108 million metric tons by 2030 (the equivalent of taking more than 23 million cars off the road).
Although S. 1000 has significant bipartisan support, the current political environment makes its enactment this year doubtful. Despite any momentum for congressional action in the short-term, energy efficiency is likely to remain a bipartisan issue. Few policy initiatives, especially in the energy arena, offer the opportunity to spur significant economic activity without undue taxpayer cost or regulatory burden.
Continuing to advocate
As Congress seeks to return to regular order following the November elections, NRCA will continue to advocate for the adoption of reasonable, pro-growth energy policies that allow roofing industry businesses to reduce costs and grow and create jobs.
Brandon Audap is NRCA's director of federal affairs.