The energy legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday is a potpourri, with provisions to abolish the oil spill liability cap and overhaul the government agency that oversees offshore drilling. But tacked to the bill is a home retrofitting program that has been idling in Congress for months.
Informally known as "Cash for Caulkers," Home Star was introduced by President Obama on March 2 during his "White House to Main Street" tour. It was designed to create jobs in the construction industry by providing incentives for consumers to buy and install spools of pink fiberglass, caulking guns, and other insulation materials. But so far, Home Star may have done more harm than good.
In anticipation of the federal rebates promised by Home Star, a version of which passed the House on May 6, some consumers are postponing plans to retrofit their homes. "The passage of Home Star in the House was a mixed blessing," said Mike Rogers, chair of the nonprofit organization Efficiency First. "Now that Americans are aware of the Home Star legislation, many are delaying their retrofit plans in hopes of federal support. Ironically, while Home Star is in process, it is having a negative impact on the very industry that it is designed to help."
Now that Home Star is embedded in a bill focused on the BP oil spill, its fate may depend on the ability of party leaders to reach consensus on a number of issues that have nothing to do with promoting energy efficiency in the home. Democratic and Republican lawmakers quarreled on the Senate floor today, but their disagreement centered on Reid's proposed elimination (subscription) of the oil spill liability cap, not on Home Star. In fact, the home retrofitting program has so far provoked little in the way of partisan strife, which comes as no surprise to its advocates.
"We have bipartisan support for the Home Star portion of the bill both in the Senate and the House, and that's really just on the merits of [Home Star]," said Larry Laseter, president of WellHome and a representative of the Home Star Coalition. "It's a rare triple win: It creates jobs, it creates savings for consumers, and it has a positive impact on energy independence and the environment."