|ENERGY POLICY:Upton calls for freeze to weatherization, EnergyStar (11/15/2010)Katherine Ling, E&E reporter
The leading candidate to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today boosted his conservative credentials, laying out a plan to cut federal government spending levels including freezing programs that support energy efficiency retrofits in homes and efficiency labeling for appliances.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wants to seize unspent stimulus funds and change committee rules to require all committee legislation be offset by cuts to programs within the committee's jurisdiction, he wrote today in an opinion editorial in Politico. Grover Norquist, president of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, co-authored the piece.
Upton also wants to go "line by line" through the budget to identify potential cuts, according to the op-ed. The piece singles out the Energy Department's weatherization program -- which provides funding to states to help low-income families reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient -- and DOE and U.S. EPA's energy efficiency labeling program "EnergyStar" as two programs that need to be re-examined or cut.
"From fraud in the EnergyStar program to ridiculous delays in the implementation of the $5-billion stimulus weatherization program, programs not working as intended must be frozen until we can determine how to fix them," Upton wrote. "Or whether they should simply be discontinued and return the taxpayers their money."
DOE has recently cracked down on several EnergyStar-labeled products, including lamps, air conditioners and freezers, that have failed to meet EnergyStar efficiency levels in audits. DOE issued the first consent decree and a fine of $150,000 to Haier America last January for EnergyStar violations on some of its freezers (E&ENews PM, Jan. 7).
The weatherization program has come under scrutiny this year after Congress provided $5 billion in the stimulus for the program but DOE encountered serious delays in getting the money to actual projects in states because of federal requirements regarding wages, "Buy America," and historic preservation (E&ENews PM, Feb. 23). The Illinois weatherization program has also specifically been criticized by DOE's inspector general for "substandard" workmanship, inflated material costs and inadequate inspections (Greenwire, Oct. 19).
As of August the program had weatherized 341,326 homes compared to 30,297 homes near the beginning of the year, according to a DOE report. DOE expects to retrofit 586,015 homes by the end of 2011.
Upton is the ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee on the Energy and Commerce Committee and is seeking to be chairman of the committee when the House reconvenes next session under a Republican majority. Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) are also seeking the chairmanship. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) is currently ranking member of the full committee but is term-limited under GOP rules, although he is seeking a waiver so he can take the top spot in the new Congress (Greenwire, Nov. 11).
Upton is considered the most politically moderate of the quartet, so his decision to pen a piece with Norquist has political significance. Conservative GOPers have voiced concern about Upton's "moderate" record, and Barton has highlighted it in public statements, which he compares to his "consistent conservative commitment" (E&ENews PM, Nov. 10).
Upton said in the piece that the committee can no longer afford to "pass the buck to the appropriators." He called for all offsets to be made from spending programs, not "tax increases," and for cuts to be 10 percent higher than the projected costs for the legislation.
"If we cut 10 percent more than is necessary, we could have an added safeguard," Upton wrote. "And if the [Congressional Budget Office] estimate is accurate, the result will be a reduction in federal spending. It is a win-win situation that is likely to have immediate results."