An Energy Bill Both Parties Can Love

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) speaks during a news conference September 25, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House leadership held the news conference to call on the Congress to pass a clean debt ceiling increase. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clare Foran
Nov. 22, 2013, 12:07 p.m.

While the pas­sage of a raft of GOP-backed en­ergy bills this month ap­peared to widen the di­vide between House Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans, a pair of law­makers has forged a genu­inely bi­par­tis­an plan to in­crease en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Cory Gard­ner, R-Colo., in­tro­duced a bill Thursday to al­low fed­er­al agen­cies to ex­pand the use of util­ity en­ergy ser­vice con­tracts, which are agree­ments with util­it­ies spe­cify­ing “the amount of en­ergy sav­ings it will achieve through ret­ro­fits and oth­er meas­ures,” ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease about the bill. “The util­ity is then paid for its per­form­ance out of the sav­ings it achieves.”

The le­gis­la­tion would al­low agen­cies to enter in­to these per­form­ance con­tracts for up to 25 years, ac­cord­ing to Welch and Gard­ner.

“The bill would al­low private con­tract­ors to in­crease en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in fed­er­al agen­cies,” Gard­ner told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily. “The longer con­tract leads to great­er en­ergy sav­ings, and it’s a way to max­im­ize the sav­ings to the tax­pay­er.”

This isn’t the first time Welch and Gard­ner have col­lab­or­ated on an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency meas­ure. The pair un­veiled a sim­il­ar plan to pro­mote en­ergy sav­ings in fed­er­al build­ings last Ju­ly, and Welch is a co­spon­sor of a bill put for­ward with Rep. Dav­id McKin­ley, R-W.Va., that would serve as a com­pan­ion to a Sen­ate en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill in­tro­duced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Port­man, R-Ohio.

The util­ity ser­vice-con­tract bill dropped this week also has a com­pan­ion meas­ure in­tro­duced by Sens. Bri­an Schatz, D-Hawaii; Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn.; and Dan Coats, R-Ind.

So far none of the pro­pos­als has made it out of com­mit­tee. What’s dif­fer­ent this time around, con­gres­sion­al aides say, is that House lead­er­ship wants to see bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion pass, in part, as a show of unity fol­low­ing the di­vis­ive par­tis­an battles sur­round­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“All of us know that the shut­down and the con­flict polit­ics that came out of it have their lim­its,” Welch said. “If we find com­mon ground on something, that will be good for the in­sti­tu­tion and for both parties.”

Welch and Gard­ner say they have also been work­ing be­hind the scenes to build a broad con­sensus for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, point­ing to a let­ter signed this month by 70 Demo­crats and 47 Re­pub­lic­ans in the House, along with Sens. Chris­toph­er Coons, D-Del., and John Booz­man, R-Ark. The let­ter to the White House, dated Nov. 4 and re­leased Wed­nes­day, calls on Pres­id­ent Obama to ex­tend a dir­ect­ive to in­crease en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency ef­forts in fed­er­al agen­cies.

Gard­ner said he has spoken with House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy, R-Cal­if., about mov­ing ad­di­tion­al en­ergy bills to the floor next year, in­clud­ing en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency le­gis­la­tion.

When asked wheth­er he thought the le­gis­la­tion would gain trac­tion in the deeply di­vided lower cham­ber, Gard­ner com­men­ted: “I think it can. If you’re look­ing for a trail­blazer bill to show that you can cre­ate good policy with broad sup­port, this bill is the per­fect ex­ample.”

Welch agreed. “Con­gress has got to get things done, and the only way we’ll do that is by find­ing com­mon ground,” he said. “Is­sues in en­ergy are con­ten­tious but ef­fi­ciency isn’t. Every­one agrees we need to have this done, so right now what we’re do­ing is try­ing to smooth all the edges down and make sure that we do this in a way that works for both sides.”

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