President Obama came into office championing energy efficiency. But the biggest energy effort of his first two years — the cap and trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — never passed Congress. And the November election results mean cap and trade is off the table.
But energy efficiency is still a presidential priority, as Obama’s “Better Buildings Initiative” shows. The plan is modest, with tax incentives for energy efficiency upgrades, grants for states and municipalities, support for small businesses, a Better Buildings Challenge for top management and training.
Politically, energy efficiency would seem promising ground for bipartisanship. It’s good for the environment and corporate bottom lines. Energy projects create jobs, which is good for the economy. And the Better Buildings Initiative is certainly both less ambitious and less controversial than the cap and trade plan, which aimed to make deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, the official White House fact sheet does not even list reduced greenhouse gas emissions among the plan’s benefits.
But climate change isn’t the only aspect of energy policy that can produce partisan battles. Obama’s plan calls for spending increases and tax cuts at a time of deep deficits. By contrast, the House budget blueprint would cut the Energy Star program budget by 20 percent.
Clearly, energy policy is hardly a subject of bipartisan agreement. As a result, energy efficiency may be seen, not as an investment, but as a political bargaining chip. That’s the pessimists’ view. The optimists say that both parties need to show that they can work together, and energy efficiency is a perfect way to do that. And the realists’ take? They’re just glad that not all of the president’s plan depends on Congressional action.
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