The Quest for a National Energy Policy

Although many are skeptical that Congress will be able to pass energy legislation this year, representatives of the engineering community are cautiously optimistic that some sort of energy policy will emerge, especially with a national concern about energy security and infrastructure.At press time, the Senate was still developing its energy bill, which currently matches up with 80% of the...

02/01/2002


Although many are skeptical that Congress will be able to pass energy legislation this year, representatives of the engineering community are cautiously optimistic that some sort of energy policy will emerge, especially with a national concern about energy security and infrastructure.

At press time, the Senate was still developing its energy bill, which currently matches up with 80% of the policies included in the House bill passed in August.

"We're encouraging engineers to support getting a bill through the Senate and getting into conference with the House," notes Larry Bory, director of government relations for the National Society of Professional Engineers, Alexandria, Va.

However, even if the Senate does pass an energy bill, there are no guarantees of the House and Senate resolving the differences in their two versions of energy legislation, according to Dave Hamilton, policy director for the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of manufacturers, government agencies and environmental groups.

Currently, the Senate version in process contains a number of building-related provisions, including a requirement that the energy efficiency of federal buildings increase to 10% beyond the Energy Conservation Code. The Senate bill also offers grant monies to schools that exceed the code by 30% for new construction and 20% for retrofits. By comparison, Hamilton points out that the House version contains less rigorous design standards and offers grants to all public buildings, not just schools.

For research and development, the Senate bill—sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)—offers $500 million in funding for renewable energies in 2003, increasing to $733 million annually by 2006. Although the Senate's policy has yet to include a tax package, the bill is expected to offer deductions for efficient commercial space and credits for the purchase and installation of fuel cells or combined heat and power systems. Among the highlights of the House bill are:

  • $33.5 billion in tax cuts and incentives over the next 10 years for energy production.

  • $12.6 billion for conservation incentives.

  • $13 billion in tax breaks to improve energy reliability.

Even though this first round of legislation, if passed, is likely to make just a dent in the total volume of energy that could potentially be saved in the U.S., Bory stresses the importance of starting somewhere.

"It may need to be revised, but the most important thing is for engineers to communicate with their senators that we need an energy policy," he states.

John Carney, director of public relations for the American Council of Engineering Companies, concurs.

"In a lot of ways, engineers are prevented from bringing their entire toolbox to solve problems. An energy policy would give engineers more options and incentives to try new ways of doing things."





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