House takes up ‘Cash for Caulkers’ bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats say homeowners could foster jobs, clean up the Earth and save themselves some serious money, just by making their homes more energy efficient under a bill expected to pass the House on Thursday.

The Home Star legislation would pay thousands of dollars in rebates over a two-year period to people who install energy-saving products such as insulation, windows and water heaters. It authorizes $6 billion to pay for the program, expected to be used by some 3 million families.

President Obama has actively promoted the bill, which also needs Senate approval. The White House said Wednesday the legislation would “create green jobs in construction and manufacturing, help consumers lower their energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The measure has been dubbed “Cash for Caulkers,” following the popular 2009 “Cash for Clunkers” initiative that rewarded people for trading in their vehicles for more fuel-efficient models.

While the bill was headed for passage in the House, some Republicans were skeptical, saying the price tag was too high at a time of mounting federal debts and questioning whether the government could run the rebate program fairly and effectively.

They said a $4.7 billion weatherization program that was part of last year’s economic stimulus act has been slow to provide grants to states.

An Associated Press study last November found that the Cash for Clunkers program commonly was used by people turning in old pickups for new trucks that got only marginally better gas mileage.

“This is not a terribly bad bill, but it has one fatal flaw: It is not paid for,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, who is the ranking GOP member on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Democrats argued that the issue of paying for the legislation will come later in the budgetary process, when Congress approves annual spending bills.

Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat and the chief sponsor of the bill, said Home Star would create nearly 170,000 jobs in the slumping construction industry and result in consumers saving almost $10 billion on their energy bills over 10 years.

The bill has two parts: The Silver Star program provides upfront rebates of up to $3,000 for specific energy-efficient improvements in a home, such as installing duct sealing, insulation or new windows.

A second Gold Star program would entitle people to up to $8,000 when they conduct comprehensive energy audits and implement measures that reduce energy use throughout their homes by more than 20 percent.

The initiative is separate from an energy tax credit of up to $1,500 that was included in last year’s economic stimulus act. That credit for energy-efficiency improvements runs only through the end of this year.

The bill has the backing of a wide spectrum of environmental and business groups.

“There is strong evidence that temporary, targeted incentive programs like Home Star can generate jobs, investment and economic growth,” John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said at a House hearing in March.

With House passage, the bill moves to the Senate, where it most likely will be attached to the next jobs bill.

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