Amid gridlock, a bipartisan effort on efficiency

Congress has had no shortage of partisan battles lately. On seemingly every recent issue, major differences have divided our legislature and frustrated the American people. In the midst of these clashes, it can be difficult to imagine any area where both parties can find common ground. But it does exist. I believe there lies a great deal of bipartisan promise in energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency might not draw the front-page headlines of healthcare and government funding battles, but it should. More efficient use of energy saves money, cuts pollution and creates jobs. And it’s something we can get started on right now.

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The United States is the second largest energy consumer in the world behind China, and our demand only continues to grow. Today, we face an increasingly important question: How can we grow our economy while using energy as efficiently as possible?

The federal government is a good place to start.

Uncle Sam currently owns and operates nearly 3 billion square feet of building space. That means that taxpayers pay the enormous energy bill to cool and heat nearly 70,000 acres of indoor building space. By making government buildings more energy efficient, we can reduce our debt through energy savings while boosting the private construction and energy sectors of our economy.

That is why I have partnered with Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, to introduce bipartisan energy efficiency legislation with a simple goal: focusing on promoting performance contracting in government buildings across the country to provide guaranteed energy savings to American taxpayers.

Our legislation achieves these goals by utilizing Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) and Utility Energy Service Contracts. These contracts allow a private company to perform energy upgrades on federal buildings. The private company assumes all the costs and risks associated with the upgrade. They receive payment only after the energy savings from the upgrades are realized.

It is estimated a typical $10 million ESPC creates 100 good-paying private sector jobs, while federal buildings benefit from more energy-efficient upgrades. And all of these benefits come without any burdensome government mandates. Everybody involved wins, and Republicans and Democrats alike can take pride in accomplishing something that benefits our economy and our environment.

To date, the federal government has been slow to take advantage of these energy-saving contracts. In 2011, President Obama urged federal department and agency heads to enter into significantly more contracts by the end of 2013. It’s an admirable goal, but one that has fallen victim to the crisis-to-crisis governing taking place in Washington.

That’s where our legislation comes in. The Energy Savings Through Public-Private Partnerships Act would expedite these projects to allow the government to use less energy and save taxpayer dollars. It’s legislation that both parties can agree is an important step toward efficient energy use in the innovation economy.

Our Energy Savings Performance Caucus has already made strides in getting executive branch departments to evaluate their own facilities and identify potential savings through ESPCs and performance contracts that promote energy efficiency at the federal, state and local level. But there is much more work to do, and every day we delay means wasted energy and wasted dollars.

Now, perhaps more than ever, Americans are looking to Congress to work together to find bipartisan solutions to today’s challenges. Congress should look to energy efficiency as the first step toward repairing our government and restoring America’s trust.

Gardner has represented Colorado’s 4th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.