With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act under way and "Cash for Caulkers" legislation pending in the Senate, energy efficiency advocates face a new question: "Now what?"
The answer may point to one of the last bastions of bipartisan agreement in energy and climate issues.
A conference in Washington that began yesterday will feature speakers from Exxon Mobil Corp., National Grid, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Dominion Power, the American Public Transportation Association, and an assortment of industry groups.
The odd mixture of attendees is nothing new to this issue. While some homeowners may not get or want the message, big organizations tend to agree energy efficiency makes environmental and financial sense. This is regardless of one's views on climate science or concerns about climate policy on the economy. Indeed, the conference's sponsor, the Alliance to Save Energy, has itself been steered by a host of Democratic and Republican legislators over the decades.
Among the conference's opening speakers was Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, a group representing the energy-intensive chemical industry.
In an interview before his speech, Dooley said the ACC supports a price on carbon, as long as there are other provisions in the bill to shelter energy-intensive industries from losing global competitiveness.
But he also hoped to impress upon his audience that climate policy has to take away U.S. EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.
An approach more popular than EPA regulation
"That is a very very high priority for us. We are appalled by the prospect of EPA regulating emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act," he said.
Yesterday, the ACC and other energy-intensive associations -- the steel, aluminum, forestry and cement industries -- claimed that they have made significant energy efficiency gains without federal regulation. Tom Gibson, president of the American Iron and Steel Institute, claimed the steel industry causes a third less emissions today than it did in 1990.
Dooley said he hoped the climate proposal by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), scheduled for release tomorrow, would beef up building codes, a major source of energy waste. He also expected it to pre-empt the Clean Air Act as well as state actions to control greenhouse gases from stationary sources.
Lane Burt, manager of building energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said there is plenty of energy efficiency yet to be reaped, particularly because there are still barriers preventing people from making investments that will save them money in the long run. "When something is cost-effective right now, and people still aren't doing it, we have to figure out why that is," he said.
He agreed that with the Recovery Act passing last year -- in what was heralded as the largest single investment in American energy efficiency ever -- the next major milestone for efficiency will be climate legislation.
"Big picture, the most important thing we can do is put a price on carbon and address the climate issue, but also we need to continue to work every day on the policies that make sense in any context," he said.