The Senate’s passage of an energy-efficiency bill, when or whether it happens, is a key trigger in prodding the House to begin an earnest debate on the policy.
“We’re awaiting Senate action because that will give us some wind at our back,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who along with Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is cosponsoring an energy-efficiency bill comparable to what the Senate may begin considering this week. “If the Senate acts, it will be a big boost for us over here.”
Despite a busy Senate floor schedule between now and Friday, when Congress is scheduled to recess for five weeks, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled Tuesday that he plans to bring up an energy-efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, which consists of a host of mostly voluntary measures encouraging more energy-efficient programs for states and businesses.
“I’m gonna move to that before the week’s out,” Reid said Tuesday during his regular meeting with reporters in the Capitol.
The Senate is still considering the spending bill for transportation and housing. Even if Reid does bring the Shaheen-Portman bill to the floor this week, the substantive debate on the legislation, including votes on controversial amendments, would almost certainly be pushed until at least September, but likely October or later, because spending battles could dominate September’s schedule.
Because the House is waiting on the Senate, any delays in the upper chamber would thus delay action across the Capitol. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has not yet held a hearing on the McKinley-Welch bill or any other similar bills, including one sponsored by Welch and Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., that would encourage the government to enter into contracts that would help it save money with more-efficient buildings.
Welch said he is confident that Energy Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., is laying the foundation for a substantive debate on the policy, including scheduling a hearing soon.
“The reason I have so much optimism is because Chairman Upton and [Energy and Power Subcommittee] Chairman [Ed] Whitfield [R-Ky.] are both actively engaged in outreach discussions on energy efficiency,” Welch said. “I’ve got many Republican colleagues who agree energy efficiency is a smart way to go.”
His comments are echoed by the Senate’s Republican sponsor.
“The House is interested in a comparable bill,” Portman said, referring to support for energy-efficiency policies from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Gardner, and McKinley. “On the Republican side, there is interest.”
The House GOP conference has not always been so friendly to energy efficiency. In fact, it’s been downright hostile. Over the past few years and as recently as this month, the House has voted to block efforts to toughen energy-efficiency standards for ceiling fans and light bulbs.
What Republicans oppose in these instances, which are not present in the efforts by McKinley and Gardner, are nationwide mandates. Republicans have grown to hate federal mandates of all kinds since the tea party’s rise in 2010.
Like the Shaheen-Portman legislation, the McKinley-Welch bill includes just one mandatory component: requiring the federal government to be more efficient with its buildings and computers.
McCarthy, who is a member of the GOP House leadership and leads the House Energy Action Team, signaled that energy efficiency will be part of the conference’s overall energy strategy.
“Energy-efficiency measures should be considered as part of a broader strategy for achieving North American energy independence,” McCarthy said. “However, those measures cannot be at the expense of the American taxpayer, increased production, or economic growth.”