PASSAGE OF H.R. 6
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, yesterday the U.S. Senate passed comprehensive energy legislation that will set the course for our national energy security in the decades to come. The members of this body were able to reach important conclusions regarding the need for increased corporate average fuel economy standards, improved energy efficiency for buildings and appliances, a national standard to help accelerate the development of renewable fuels, and carbon sequestration technology to capture carbon emitted through the burning of coal. The Energy bill approved by the Senate truly represents a shift toward a comprehensive, responsible, and focused national energy policy.
Not to be forgotten in establishing this policy are America's small business owners. There are nearly 26 million small businesses in this country--nearly 26 million business owners that are focused on keeping their doors open and putting food on the table for their families. And while climate change and national energy security sometimes seem like distant threats compared to rising health care costs and staying competitive in an increasingly global economy, small business owners are telling us that energy costs are indeed a concern. The National Small Business Association recently conducted a poll of its members, asking how energy prices affected their business decisions. Seventy-five percent said that energy prices had at least a moderate effect on their businesses--with roughly the same number saying that reducing energy costs would increase their profitability. Despite these numbers, only 33 percent have invested in energy efficiency measures.
In March of this year, I convened a hearing in the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to look at what small businesses can do to confront global warming. We learned over the course of that hearing just how much can be done to help small businesses become energy efficient. We also learned just how little the current administration is doing. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that small businesses consume roughly 30 percent of the commercial energy consumed in this country--that is roughly 2 trillion kBtu of energy per year, and it's costing small business concerns approximately $29 million a year. Through efforts to increase energy efficiency, small businesses can contribute to America's energy security, help to combat global warming, and add to their bottom line all at the same time.
Last night, I worked with Senator SNOWE to include two amendments to H.R. 6 that will go a long way toward helping small business owners become more energy efficient. These amendments, which together represent the provisions included in S. 1657, the Small Business Energy Efficiency Act of 2007, require the Small Business Administration, SBA, to implement an energy efficiency program that was mandated in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. To date, the SBA has dragged its feet in implementing a program that could help small business owners to become more energy efficient. Administrator Preston should implement this important program today, and this bill directs him to do so.
Second, this legislation establishes a program to increase energy efficiency through energy audits at Small Business Development Centers, SBDCs. The Pennsylvania SBDC currently operates a similar program, and has successfully assisted hundreds of businesses to become more energy efficient. As a result of the program, six of the eight winners of the 2006 ENERGY STAR Small Business Awards given by the EPA went to Pennsylvania businesses. This program should be replicated so that small businesses across the country have the same opportunity to cut energy costs through the efficiency measures.
Third, the SBA Administrator is authorized to guarantee on-bill financing agreements between businesses and utility companies, to cover a utility company's risk in entering into such an agreement. The federal government should encourage utility companies to pursue these agreements with businesses, where an electric utility will cover the up-front costs of implementing energy efficiency measures, and a business will repay these costs through the savings realized in their energy bill.
Fourth, the legislation creates a telecommuting pilot program through the SBA. The Administrator is authorized to establish a program that produces educational materials and performs outreach to small businesses on the benefits of telecommuting.
Finally, the legislation encourages increased innovation by providing a priority status within the SBIR and STTR programs that ensures high priority be given to small business concerns participating in energy efficiency or renewable energy system research and development projects.
As a nation, we have much to do to secure our future energy supply and to solve the international crisis that is global warming. Last night's approval of H.R. 6 demonstrates this body's will to set the right course, and America's small business owners should know that Congress is providing them with the tools they need to join the crusade.
Mr. President, last night, we successfully passed comprehensive energy legislation which included a significant increase in fuel economy standards. For far too long, this has been the third rail of energy policy. It has been one of Washington's great failures in leadership. But thanks to a bipartisan effort on the part of so many of my colleagues, these new requirements will cut automobile carbon emissions dramatically and will help put our country on a path toward energy dependence. The oil savings from the CAFE provision alone will ultimately total 1.2 million barrels per day by 2020.
When we first established CAFE standards for passenger cars and trucks in 1975, within 10 years we increased fuel economy by 70 percent and decreased our oil dependence from 36 percent to 27 percent. Ever since then, we have been stuck in neutral. The fuel economy of the average new passenger vehicle is lower today than it was 10 years ago.
We now have overcome the forces of inertia, and our country is now poised to at last revolutionize the way we drive. I am proud of the bipartisan commitment to this issue, which was demonstrated with historic vote. I particularly would like to thank my colleagues, Senator Inouye and Senator Stevens, for their leadership on this issue.
I was proud to cast my vote in support of this important bipartisan energy legislation, which will dramatically increase our use of renewable fuels, incentivize energy efficiency, reduce our oil dependence, and address the growing threat of climate change. This bill truly puts us on a path toward a cleaner, healthier, and more secure energy future.