Home Energy Efficiency Gains Momentum in Congress

With the BP Gulf Oil Spill pushing concern over US oil dependence to new heights, a broadly supported bill moving through Congress this month promises to reduce the need for burning oil and other fossil fuels by making US homes more efficient. The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 passed the US House of Representatives last week, and is now on its way to the Senate. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the bill is not that it addresses both the environmental and economic concerns of many Americans simultaneously, but that it has gained support from a wider coalition of environmental and industry groups than almost any other green-minded bill in the nation’s history.

If passed into law, the Home Star Act will launch a two-year initiative that provides US residents with incentives to retrofit their homes with energy-saving products, the majority of which would be manufactured in the United States. The Home Star Act outlines two programs for accomplishing this goal. The bill’s Silver Star track promises to provide homeowners with rebates for installing specific technologies that increase energy efficiency, such as heat-retaining windows, more efficient water heaters, and better home insulation. Meanwhile the Gold Star track would give rebates up to $8,000 to those who do a comprehensive home energy audit and dramatically reduce their home’s consumption of energy.

In the House of Representatives, the Home Star Act was strongly supported by manufacturing and construction industry groups that believe the program can re-vitalize sectors hit hard by the economic downturn. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, “The incentives provided by the Home Star Act will create good, living-wage jobs for American workers,” and provide relief to the waning manufacturing industry. Home Star is predicted to create 170,000 new jobs in the US over the next ten years, and to simultaneously save consumers nearly $10 billion in energy costs.

Meanwhile environmentalists have been quick to point out that more efficient homes will mean reduced demand for oil, coal, and other fossil fuels, and have praised Home Star as an important part of the national transition to a cleaner energy future. The result has been an unlikely alliance. As Home Star moved toward final approval in the House, liberal environmental groups joined some of the most conservative industry associations in the country in making the bill a priority. Home Star passed the House 246-161 last week, with bipartisan support. According the green jobs advocacy group Green for All, the program “is a fast-acting, short-term, job creation program that will drive new private investment into the hard hit construction and manufacturing sectors, while saving consumers money on their energy bills.”

To become law, the Home Star Act still needs to clear the US Senate – where a companion bill to the one passed by the House already exists. The Senate bill has drawn supporters from both Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle, who seem confident in its prospects for passing. After approval by the Senate Home Star would go to the desk of President Barack Obama, who endorsed the House version, for his signature. Energy efficiency advocates hope Home Star will become law by the end of this month.

“Yesterday’s bi-partisan passage of the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 in the House is a critical milestone on the road to economic recovery,” said the environmental group Climate Progress on Friday. “The alliance behind this rebate program to encourage Americans to invest in more energy-efficient homes is nothing short of historic.”

Photo credit: Modern Northwest Home

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