Similar to a year ago, the press is seizing on the prospects of a comprehensive energy bill that deals with carbon emissions and alternative energy development.
Debate roils over the effectiveness of “cap and trade” for carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Still, cap and trade continues to be the platform for The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, passed by the House on June 29, 2009, and the American Power Act, also known as the Kerry-Lieberman bill, being pushed by Senate Democrats.
Senate legislators would address concerns raised in 2009 by the NAHB and other trade groups. While maintaining the greenhouse gas emissions standards of the House bill, it phases in reductions for residential and commercial buildings.
The Senate bill also would empower state organizations to set standards for improving energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.
Commentators are pushing for adoption of a national target as set forth in Senate Bill 1462, which provides for the Department of Energy to create a national model building code incorporating energy savings of 50 percent after 2016, as compared to 2005 codes for new commercial and residential structures.
Either approach is more sensible than the House bill, which would require a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency from the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code requirements for any house built after the bill becomes law.
What is the likelihood of the Senate bill being adopted in the near term and, if adopted as currently written, becoming law?
Until Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced that he would no longer support bipartisan efforts to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote, some believed the Senate would pass its energy bill and Congress would send a reconciled bill to the president for signature by the end of May. That now appears moot.
Financial regulation and immigration remain at the top of the political agenda, and both issues are contentious.
Congress also has 14 budget bills to review and approve, as well as a Supreme Court nominee to vet and approve—all before the mid-term elections.
Comprehensive energy legislation won't likely see review or debate prior to the 110th Congress adjourning, and the building industry has probably dodged the energy improvement compliance “bullet” contained in the House bill.
The delay of any comprehensive energy bill being enacted into law will help the housing industry in several ways. It gives the industry additional time to recover from the worst economic recession in living memory before it has to address a new set of energy regulations.
It also delays the need for significant investment by the industry in new technologies to better address compliance with new energy-efficient building codes.
Finally, it gives the industry time to focus on the energy issue and contribute to the thought process on Capitol Hill regarding the best ways to improve energy efficiency in new and retrofitted buildings.
Phil Whitcomb is president of AH&PC Investments, a partner of AgoraRetail Advisors, and serves as president of Promethean Structures. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.