Bipartisan support building for Home Star job creation, energy savings

Best of all, Home Star will instantly create productive jobs in long-suffering markets around the country. Unemployment in the construction industry has been brutal — more than twice the national average. Within 30 days of President Obama signing Home Star into law, building and electrical contractors, caulkers, installers and other insulation specialists — many of whom haven't worked in months or years — will be on the job in towns and cities all over America. Inside 18 months, conservative estimates predict that Home Star will create 168,000 sorely needed jobs.

Home Star is designed to be as economically efficient as building insulation is energy-efficient. Its $6 billion price tag is miniscule compared to the financial and environmental benefits it will generate through the years. The economic chain reaction triggered by Home Star, moreover, is formidable: The vast majority of insulation materials is produced right here in the U.S.

At its root, Home Star is a rebate program that encourages homeowners and home builders to install energy-efficient materials such as insulation. Home Star will offer consumers two types of incentives: SILVER STAR will provide homeowners between $1,000 and $1,500 for installing individual energy-saving measures, such as heat pumps, insulation and air conditioners; GOLD STAR will entice homeowners to reduce their overall energy use with rebates of up to $3,000 in exchange for a 20 percent reduction in consumption. At a time when Americans are looking to save money wherever possible, average homeowners can reduce energy costs between 20 and 40 percent by making energy-efficient improvements. For consumers grappling with $150-per-month utility bills, that could mean $40 or more — not an insignificant savings.

Retrofits spurred by Home Star, moreover, will reduce hazardous carbon emissions so dramatically that it would be as if 600,000 cars were taken off our highways. The crude reality is that America loses the equivalent of 217 million barrels of oil a year because of inadequate levels of building insulation — roughly 30 times greater than amount lost in the Gulf of Mexico's horrific oil spill.

Home Star has already passed the House of Representatives with, for this Congress, virtually unprecedented bipartisan backing. A dozen Republicans joined 234 House Democrats in sending a bill to the Senate. Now a bipartisan group led by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is exploring ways to add Home Star to the small-business jobs bill being debated on the Senate floor. It's a welcome opportunity to get Home Star enacted during good weather when more work can be initiated. Even if Home Star should fall short of the small-business jobs bill, it can be an integral part of the energy package that will be considered later this summer and fall.

Home Star is backed by a coalition of more than a thousand organizations, including certain institutions that don’t always see eye-to-eye on matters of public policy, among them the National Association of Manufacturers and the Sierra Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the BlueGreen Alliance.

What we've learned through the success of new housing construction tax credits over the past year is that in depressed economic times such measures are absolutely essential in nursing a troubled industry back to health. There's a reason Home Star has attracted such broad-based support in an otherwise divided Congress: It will build on the momentum in the new home construction sector, encourage energy-smart renovation of existing homes, and put hard-working Americans back on the job — in a hurry.

Kate Offringa is president and CEO of the Council of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.