Making the federal government an example of energy efficiency

The energy bill that passed the Senate on June 21 represents an important step toward a new energy direction for this country. The bill includes provisions that will go a long way toward making America more energy independent, protecting consumers, and encouraging the development of new technologies and creation of jobs in energy-smart industries. The overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill — it passed 65 to 27 — underscores that the time has come for a real change in America’s energy policy.

The bill includes many provisions that will pay economic and environmental dividends for decades to come, but its earliest benefits may be evident in the area of energy efficiency. Experts have called boosting efficiency the single greatest untapped source of energy in America. If the whole country used electricity as efficiently as my home state of California, the energy we would save would be the equivalent to all of America’s oil imports from the Middle East.

The federal government is one of the largest energy consumers in the world. We have made great strides in recent years, but I believe strongly that the federal government should lead by example when it comes to smarter, cleaner energy policy.

That’s why I worked with my colleagues on the Environment and Public Works committee to include in the energy bill several important pieces of legislation that our committee passed that take aim squarely at the challenge of making the federal government a model of energy efficiency. These provisions, which all received broad bipartisan support in the EPW
Committee, will:

•Require lighting retrofits and increased energy efficiency in as many as 8,000 federal buildings, with a $100 million grant program for local governments to upgrade their own buildings.

•Establish a “Green Buildings” program for new and upgraded government buildings, using the most sustainable products, practices and materials, which will save energy and money, and reduce air, water and global warming pollution.

•Authorize construction of a photovoltaic “solar wall” to generate electricity at the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, D.C., which will reduce global warming pollution and pay for itself.

•Authorize a demonstration project to test innovative clean technologies that reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution from the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C.

In addition, a provision I sponsored in the Commerce Committee directs the federal government to buy the most energy efficient cars practicable for its federal fleet; the General Services Administration buys about 60,000 cars a year on behalf of federal agencies.

These changes will not only help deal with global warming by reducing both energy use and the greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere, but they will also save taxpayers money.

Across the nation, millions of individuals are taking steps in their own lives that save energy, save money, and protect the environment. Small steps really add up. If everyone made sure his or her tires were properly inflated, we could prevent more than 7 million tons of global warming pollution each year.  If every household in the United States replaced one incandescent light bulb in their home with a compact fluorescent, it would be the equivalent of taking 6.3 million cars off the road over the life of the bulbs.  I am taking part, along with several of my colleagues, in ongoing efforts to make our own
Senate offices more energy efficient.

When I became chairwoman and took the gavel for the Environment and Publics Works Committee in January of this year, I promised to do everything I can to make progress on the monumental challenge of global warming. The Senate-passed energy bill is the first of many steps we must take to address this challenge. I look forward to the day when the federal government — with all of its thousands of buildings, tens of thousands of cars, trucks and other vehicles — is a shining example of clean, sustainable energy policy. This energy bill is proof that with a concerted, bipartisan effort, we can effect real changes in energy efficiency, with the federal government leading the way by example.

Boxer is the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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