This climate solution is an economic opportunity staring Congress in the face
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Roughly 100 new members of Congress have recently been sworn in. Together with returning lawmakers, they will be looking at answering the question of how to tackle the threat of climate change while strengthening the U.S. economy.

It’s actually quite doable.

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We can’t understate the challenge ahead. Just last November, the Trump administration released the 4th National Climate Assessment, a report from 13 federal agencies that said our climate is changing faster than ever before in modern civilization, with impacts projected to intensify. It was yet another brutal warning, bringing renewed attention to the urgency of reducing carbon pollution.

We also confirmed recently that we’re far from being on track to reducing emissions. In January, another report said carbon dioxide emissions in the United States actually increased by 3.4 percent in 2018. We’re trending in the wrong direction.

But what feels like a problem is really a remarkable opportunity. And it starts with saving energy. Today, energy waste is all around us – old-fashioned light bulbs releasing most of their energy as heat, not light; poorly-insulated buildings letting the heated or air-conditioned air right out into nature; or old or inefficient appliances using many times the electricity as new ones to accomplish the same task.

Right now, we have proven, cost-effective solutions and technologies to significantly reduce wasted energy while also boosting the economy. And on the carbon front, according to the International Energy Agency, improving energy efficiency alone could account for more than 40 percent of the emissions reductions needed to meet global carbon emissions targets. And the kicker is that every time we’re saving energy we’re also saving consumers, businesses, or taxpayers money while stimulating job growth.

Members of Congress in both parties looking to address climate change have a host of upcoming chances to tackle this problem by advancing energy efficiency. A few examples:

 

First, Congress should ensure that our tax policies are incentivizing efficient energy use. For decades, the government has encouraged nearly every mainstream form of energy generation with tax incentives. Why aren’t we using this critical policy tool to also encourage less energy use?

What about incentivizing homeowners to make efficiency improvements, or encouraging developers to build high-efficiency buildings? We had incentives to do just this, but Congress let them lapse. They should be updated and reinstated promptly. A tax credit encouraging consumers to buy electric vehicles should also be updated to ensure the growth of electric vehicle markets, driving down the costs of vehicle production and accelerating their benefits for consumers and society.

Second, Congress and the administration should work together to update our aging infrastructure – and do it in a way that incorporates innovation in energy efficiency. We should make sure our public facilities – think airports, water treatment centers, military facilities and other public buildings – are built to use less energy. This won’t just cut down on needless pollution but will reduce government spending on operations costs for decades to come. And while we’re breaking ground on roads and bridges, we should modernize our freight and transit systems and deepen our network of electric vehicle charging stations.

Lastly, Congress should invest in federal programs for energy efficiency R&D, home weatherization, setting energy standards for appliances, and initiatives that help manufacturers and institutions save money through efficiency improvements. These efforts are a bargain because they stimulate far more economic activity and savings than they cost.

The U.S. has come a long way in using energy more efficiently in recent decades, but we have a long way to go. For lawmakers looking for bipartisan solutions to address climate change, there’s a bounty of opportunity. Now’s the time to seize it.

Hartke is president of Alliance to Save Energy.