Congress passed a bill on Tuesday requiring the General Services Administration and the Department of Energy to “create a voluntary energy efficiency standard for commercial buildings.” The bill is part of a broader measure co-authored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) aimed at improving energy efficiency in businesses, homes, and creating more energy efficient technology. The bill received strong bipartisan support and is indicative of the role energy can have in breaking the longstanding congressional gridlock. Sen. Shaheen on the bill:
“The tough part was convincing Washington to not play politics with a good idea.”
Indeed, prior efforts to bring this bill to the floor were stymied by other, more partisan issues like climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline. As I mentioned in January, the biggest threat posed by Keystone wasn’t environmental or job related, it was the effect it had in reinforcing partisan lines. This prevented, or at least delayed, substantive debates, bills, and agreements on other, more important energy issues.
While the bill will generate modest savings on energy consumption, it’s the long-term effects we should be paying attention to. Energy issues affect Americans domestically and internationally in terms of both security and economics. Bipartisan cooperation on energy issues at home will not only improve efficiency and economic performance, it will promote American interests abroad.
Internationally, energy has the potential to be a major player in, and an accelerant of, peace and cooperation with respect to national security. For example, Israel and Jordan are in the process of planning a pipeline to export Israeli natural gas to their neighbor. This would mark the first cross-border project between the two countries since the 1994 Peace Accords.
David Gillers of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources refers to energy as a “special commodity” and a “great equalizer.” The Committee has plans for a hearing on energy efficiency and the House Energy & Commerce Committee is expected to follow suit. If the US can continue to agree on critical energy issues at home, it will only strengthen their resolve to promote energy security issues internationally.