This article was originally published in the July/August 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1994
Carrots and Sticks From Washington
Curious changes are occurring in branches of the federal government that deal with home energy use. Funding to save energy in homes is increasing while budgets for more glamorous items like space stations are being cut. This is happening, despite a struggle in Congress over funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The Energy Policy Act (EPAct) and the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) provide the strongest evidence of the government's intent. The EPAct, passed by Congress in 1992, outlines Congress' goals. This messy piece of legislation is too long, covers too many diverse topics, and is poorly crafted. More recently, the White House hastily created the CCAP, a collection of programs that are meant to demonstrate how the United States intends to meet its international commitment to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. While trying to decide where emissions would be reduced most quickly, White House policymakers realized that industry tends to make improvements too slowly and learned that transportation was a political minefield. This left the buildings sector. So far, the CCAP consists of a list of actions that are already either underway (some started by EPAct) or soon to be launched. It is a recitation of plans rather than a single piece of legislation. Both documents direct the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to spend more money--a lot more money--on energy conservation. The agencies will also try to leverage utility and industry funding through collaborations.
Since EPAct and CCAP were drafted at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, it's no surprise that the program selections differ. There's also some confusion over the division of responsibilities between DOE and EPA.
Even so, everyone involved agrees on the intent: make these energy savings happen. The buzzword in the halls of both DOE and EPA is implementation and this will trickle down to utilities, Home Depots, and consumers in the form of new energy-efficiency standards, incentives, training programs, industrial partnerships, consortia, and other activities. There is also a new willingness to try non-regulatory approaches to fostering efficiency, from golden carrots to energy rating systems. Not all of these ideas will succeed (nor should we expect them to) but there is a good chance that encouragement to improve energy efficiency really will trickle down.
The amazing thing about all this activity is that it is occurring at a time when energy prices are lower than they have been in decades. This is also occurring during a period of intense pressure to cut non-essential items in the federal budget. The driving force behind these initiatives are environmental fears, both immediate and long term. Can conservation deliver? Stay tuned.
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