Editors Blog

Congress is Busy

May 14, 2010

As a cynic, I generally believe that the men and women we elect to represent us in government are a bunch of fat cats who sit around and don’t do much while earning six-figure salaries for their public service. But the current Congress is proving me wrong about the sitting-around-and-not-doing-much thing.

Right now Congress is hoppin’, and the House and Senate are moving legislation fast. Of course, whether that’s a good thing or not is certainly up for all kinds of debate.

At a meeting with some industry lobbyists in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, I heard someone comment that this Congress has taken on more than it can handle. Not only did they pass the health care bill, they are tackling Wall Street, immigration, climate change, job creation, and oh yeah, don’t forget that they’ve also got a Supreme Court nomination to battle through this summer.

But they are slogging through with remarkable speed. And one of the jobs bills that could impact the HVACR industry was passed by the House last Thursday, May 6. Called the “Home Star Retrofit Rebate Program,” it would legislate two programs - Silver Star and Gold Star - to provide rebates to homeowners who upgrade their homes with energy efficiency improvements.

The bill was nicknamed “Cash for Caulkers” since it was modeled after last year’s “Cash for Clunkers” program. But that’s a bit of a misnomer since it’s not just caulkers who will reap the benefits of the bill. Home Star would provide $6 billion in rebates to homeowners who upgrade their heating and cooling systems to specified levels of energy efficiency.

The Silver Star rebates are geared for specific improvements, such as replacing an old air conditioner with a more efficient one. The rebate amounts vary depending equipment purchased or improvement made (from $250 for a tankless water heater to $1,500 for an air conditioner) but max out at $3,000.

The Gold Star rebates are intended for whole-house energy reduction and are based on simulations comparing the energy use of a home before and after retrofits. The Gold Star rebate provides $3,000 for a 20-percent reduction in a home’s total energy consumption, with an additional $1,000 for every additional 5-percent reduction - maxing out at $8,000.

The bill is now under review in the Senate and should be up for a vote soon. You can read the whole text of the House-passed bill (H.R. 5019) and the current Senate version (S. 3177) of the Home Star bills online at the Library of Congress. Just search for the bill numbers at www.thomas.loc.gov.

And, don’t forget that your representatives will be heading home at the end of the summer to stump for the fall elections and try to win your vote. So if there’s something you don’t like or want to see them change in the current legislation, now is the time to let them know.
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