Why Is America Wasting So Much Energy?

Source: By TERRY SOBOLEWSKI and RALPH CAVANAGH, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Federal programs like Energy Star are under threat in Washington. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Partisan fights in Washington can leave the impression that we’re hopelessly divided. The truth is there are plenty of bipartisan solutions to the energy and environmental challenges we face, and energy efficiency is near the top of the list.

America fails to capture some two-thirds of the power it generates, much of it through simple waste, according to federal data. In a recent survey, the United States was ranked eighth among 23 of the world’s top energy-consuming countries in efficiency, behind several European nations, China and Japan.

We shouldn’t accept that.

Energy efficiency is one of the most powerful resources we have for meeting our energy and environmental goals. It is also an enormous economic opportunity.

Setting aside the significant environmental impact, this energy waste costs American businesses and households billions of dollars every year. In commercial buildings alone, where annual electricity costs are roughly $190 billion, about 30 percent of this energy goes to waste.

We’re making progress. Federal programs like Energy Star (which identifies and clearly labels the most efficient products on the market) are saving American consumers and businesses billions of dollars per year while reducing power plant pollution. Also, America’s utilities are doing their part, investing $7.5 billion annually in cost-effective electricity and natural gas efficiency programs.

Yet many of the federal efficiency programs stimulating this progress are under threat in Washington. The Trump administration has proposed killing Energy Star and all but eliminating other efficiency programs, with cuts averaging nearly 80 percent. Congress wisely rejected these proposals initially for the short term, but legislation recently passed by the House isn’t much better, proposing to cut many of these money-saving and job-creating programs nearly in half.

A House subcommittee was scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss altering Energy Star in ways that could compromise the program, which supporters call one of America’s most successful public-private partnerships. The government-backed effort estimates it has saved consumers and businesses $430 billion on their utility bills since its launch in 1992, and it has grown to 16,000 partners (including a wide range of manufacturers, retailers, builders and utilities).

Eliminating or weakening Energy Star and other efficiency programs is absolutely going in the wrong direction.

Energy efficiency is not new — it was our grandparents’ energy policy: Don’t waste. Save as much as you can for later when you, or future generations, might need it.

We need energy efficiency to accommodate emerging technologies and population growth, which are putting demands on our electricity grids that our grandparents never imagined. We can do so much more than shutting off our lights or keeping a close eye on the thermostat.

That’s where smart policy and programs come into play.

Our federal agencies run some of the most innovative efficiency programs in the world. They work with American manufacturers on the latest efficiency technologies to improve productivity and competitiveness. They develop efficiency standards for household appliances, saving families an average of $500 per year. They provide testing and expertise to local and state governments trying to adopt the most effective building-efficiency codes for homes and commercial buildings.

This is not federal bureaucracy run amok. It’s good government that will save taxpayers money and drive our economy. To critics who say that “government intervention isn’t needed to save energy” or “efficiency standards are intrusive federal mandates,” the best response is simply to invoke a decades-long record of economic and environmental success across the nation, dating back at least 30 years, when the first legislation authorizing federal efficiency standards was signed by President Ronald Reagan.

Today, according to the Energy Department, energy efficiency supports 2.2 million American jobs — from contractors weatherizing houses to workers manufacturing more efficient appliances and equipment. Imagine how many more jobs could be created if we were to turn our waste into opportunity.

Evidence shows that Americans of all stripes want reasonable energy efficiency policies. Shortly after the November 2016 election, a poll released by the Conservative Energy Network found that 94 percent of respondents said policies supporting energy efficiency were important.

Among those who supported Donald Trump, the number was 90 percent.

It’s hard to beat those numbers. Congress should come together and deliver strong funding for federal efficiency programs. Energy efficiency presents both Republicans and Democrats with an opportunity to reach consensus on an issue that is good for their constituents and the environment. Taxpayers and customers win. It’s a nonpartisan solution to a nonpartisan challenge.