Congress’ return from the August recess was met with a busy week of preparations for the fall agenda as well as an address from President Obama. While all eyes are on job creation and the deficit, a number of energy issues entered into the conversation.
During his Thursday evening address to Congress, President Obama laid out a familiar package of proposals in his much-anticipated jobs speech, and this time offered a specific plan on paper that he called on the chambers to pass. The over $400 billion American Jobs Act includes new infrastructure spending, pays for it by repealing oil and gas company tax incentives and increasing taxes on the highest income-earning corporations and citizens, and does so without altering plans for the much-debated and highly-targeted Environmental Protection Agency programs. No small number of groups sought increased funding for clean energy programs, such as the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups that sent a letter to the President pressing the issue. Though Obama has favored clean energy programs in earlier speeches, the aversion to spending in Congress led to a less ambitious message on clean energy.
The jobs plan will take different shapes in the House and Senate this fall, but efficiency seems to be an emerging area of consensus. Obama’s speech called for almost $30 billion to modernize schools and community colleges via projects such as emergency repairs, asbestos abatement, construction of new labs, and energy efficiency upgrades. The future of those proposals will be decided in the coming months, but for now Senate Democrats are expected to push energy legislation as part of whatever larger jobs bill emerges, with a focus on measures such as a Home Star energy efficiency plan and billions of dollars in tax credits for advanced manufacturing and renewable energy. A group of major companies including Best Buy, Intel, Siemens, and Whirlpool sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week asking them to move on stand-alone energy efficiency legislation, but if language similar to the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 1000) from Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) does move forward, it is likely to do so as part of a larger package. Meanwhile, House Republicans will continue to take votes to repeal Environmental Protection Agency regulations and eliminate funding for energy programs they find duplicative or overburdensome.