(Bloomberg) — The Republican Congress and President Barack Obama have accomplished something unusual: a deal on energy-efficiency legislation.
A scaled-down bill to boost efficient power use passed
Congress with barely any debate, and Obama signed it Thursday.
But the bipartisan comity may be short lived as opponents
take aim at a key piece of Obama’s climate plan. Makers of
freezers, furnaces and, even, ceiling fans are joining with
natural gas utilities and Republicans to try to stall
regulations that would make appliances more efficient.
“We cannot support an efficiency standard that imposes
higher costs, requires more energy and produces more
emissions,” John Somerhalder, president of AGL Resources Inc.,
a natural gas distributor, said Thursday at a House hearing
about a proposed furnace standard from the Energy Department.
The industry pushback shows how even the small steps in
Obama’s bid to curb greenhouse gases have become controversial.
Energy efficiency has long been the unassailable apple pie of
energy issues, as using less energy means lower fuel bills for
companies and consumers. And less natural gas or coal use means
lower greenhouse-gas emissions, so environmental groups support
efficiency as a low-cost climate solution.
“Energy efficiency is uniquely positioned to draw
bipartisan support,” said Elizabeth Noll, energy efficiency
advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. There’s a
“vast bipartisan opportunity to do much more.”
Noll testified Thursday against efforts to roll back
efficiency standards, calling them counterproductive. Lobbyists
for companies such as Ingersoll-Rand Plc and Emerson Electric
Co. argue Obama’s rush for mandates in his climate plan is
creating standards they can’t meet. As a result, higher costs
will mean that more older appliances will stay in use — and
energy consumption could rise, they say.
The Senate in late March passed a version of legislation
from Senators Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican. That bill included provisions to
help induce building owners to adopt more efficient heating or
lighting, and reworked an Energy Department standard so water
heaters could be used as a system of storage.
That final bill included only a few of nearly 30 items in a
Shaheen-Portman measure from 2011, and lawmakers in both
chambers spent Thursday discussing which other parts could be
written into a comprehensive energy bill this year.
The House passed the bill this month.
“The administration looks forward to continuing to work
with the Congress on bipartisan legislation to support energy
efficiency and boost U.S. competitiveness and job creation,”
Kathleen Hogan, the top Energy Department official for
efficiency, said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Still, many pieces of the legislation would stop the
department from writing rules, and businesses took the
opportunity Thursday to weigh-in against the standards. Among
other steps, the measures would halt a proposal to boost furnace
efficiency to more than 90 percent, from 80 percent.
Chris Peel, chief operating officer for furnace maker Rheem
Manufacturing Co., told a House panel that most of the 80
percent furnaces are in the U.S. South, and replacing them with
more efficient units wouldn’t be cost effective.
The Energy Department’s “lack of true collaboration has
resulted in oversights, including errors involving economic
assumptions and technical issues,” Peel said.
The legislation would also phase out a requirement that all
new federal buildings be powered and heated by renewable
resources by 2030.
“We are deeply concerned that other of the provisions in
the draft bill actually will serve to impede or roll back
progress we are making,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the
Alliance to Save Energy, a group that represents companies that
help companies cut energy use, such as Siemens AG and Dow
To contact the reporter on this story:
Mark Drajem in Washington at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at