Even in these partisan times, and even on topics like the environment and energy that are so caught up in politics, there are some promising areas where progress can be made. One is energy efficiency. Done right, more efficient use of energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions, grows the economy and reduces costs for taxpayers. It makes sense.
That’s why, since 2011, I’ve worked with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to promote bipartisan energy efficiency legislation that will do just that. Such legislation passed the Senate a few years ago but was mostly stopped in the House. What did get through is already making a difference, including provisions that are resulting in more energy efficiency in 4.5 million square feet in leased building space through our Tenant Star program at EPA and an estimated $29 million per year in energy savings from water heaters, which reduce energy consumption during peak hours and lower household energy costs.
There is room to do so much more. That’s why, in July, Sen. Shaheen and I introduced the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESIC). It improves energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings, the federal government and the manufacturing sector.
With buildings accounting for 40 percent of our nation’s energy use and the federal government being the single largest consumer of energy in the country — and countless inefficiencies in both sectors — there is great potential to cut down on energy consumption and save taxpayers money.
Just one provision of ESIC will reduce energy consumption in federal government buildings by 2.5 percent per year compared to 2018 consumption levels. Elsewhere, improving building codes through incentives will save consumers nearly $13 billion per year in energy costs and reduce emissions by the equivalent of taking 11 million cars off the road by 2040. Another bipartisan ESIC reform to the federal mortgage underwriting process will encourage energy efficiency and reduce emissions by the equivalent of 1.5 million cars by 2040.
For our factories, ESIC provisions promoting energy efficient technology will both lower emissions and make our businesses and economy more efficient, more productive and more competitive. This will create more jobs and lead to more U.S. innovation and R&D in energy efficient technology.
In addition to ESIC, I’m working with Sen. Michael Bennet to pass effective carbon capture legislation. Carbon capture is a common-sense solution that will allow America to use its natural resources while protecting the environment at the same time. Our bill, the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, would allow businesses to use private activity bonds (PABs) issued by local or state governments to finance a carbon capture project. PABs have been used for decades to finance pollution control equipment at U.S. power and industrial facilities — capturing carbon dioxide is a logical next step. Business groups, energy groups and environmental groups all support this bipartisan measure. It is a great example of how a policy change can result in both more jobs and a significant reduction in carbon emissions.
The bipartisan Tropical Forests Conservation Act, which I authored 21 years ago and reauthorized with Sen. Tom Udall last year, is designed to provide resources to protect and preserve forests that are being threatened around the world. It uses market forces to incentivize countries to protect their forests in exchange for reductions in the debt they owe the U.S. These debt-for-nature swaps have protected more than 67 million acres of tropical forests over the past two decades, including more than 1.1 million acres in Brazil when they had foreign debt owed to us. This progress was made at minimal cost to taxpayers and without losing a single job. Such forest burning destroys important biodiversity, and protecting our forests is a leading way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide through sequestration. Now, we must look at different ways to use market forces to incentivize countries like Brazil that no longer have foreign debt with us.
If we step back from politics, we can figure out ways to improve the environment while creating more economic opportunities. The bipartisan legislative initiatives outlined above with Sens. Shaheen, Bennett and Udall are good examples. These bills harness the power of America’s markets to spur innovation in the fields of energy efficiency and carbon capture, and I look forward to getting them across the finish line. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren and all Americans to come together to keep our environment clean and our economy strong.
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He also serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.