A rare point of consensus in Washington today is that we need jobs — a lot of them and fast. But agreement on how to get those jobs can be elusive. So when we can rally folks around a job-creating policy — even a small one — that’s good for business, good for government and good for American workers, we’ve got to jump on it. Action on the smaller opportunities should drive momentum for the big ones.
The Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) program is one of those win-win-win policies. Under ESPCs, the federal government gets energy efficiency upgrades with no up-front costs, and it will save money on energy. Private contractors get a lot of new business. And the U.S. economy gets an influx of new jobs and taxpayer savings.
Here’s how the program works. The federal government is our nation’s single largest building owner — and, consequently, the top energy user in America. ESPCs enable private companies to invest in new energy-efficient equipment in government buildings. Government agencies, in turn, repay the private-sector investment over time using the money saved on energy costs.
Bottom line: Maximizing the program would result in $21 billion in net savings to the federal government, energy savings equivalent to taking 10 million cars and their emissions off the road and reducing our oil usage by 1.2 billion barrels, and 35,000 direct jobs for Americans.
Despite the obvious benefits, the federal government has largely failed to take advantage of the $80 billion in private contracts available under the ESPC program. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce highlighted the untapped potential of the ESPC program in our jobs plan. Last Friday, President Barack Obama acted on our recommendation, directing agencies to fully leverage the program — and start creating jobs.
This is a step in the right direction. But with persistently high unemployment, what we need is a leap.
We’d like to see lawmakers build momentum by adopting another key recommendation in the Chamber of Commerce’s jobs plan. Across the nation, 351 energy projects — many of them clean energy or efficiency projects — are stalled because of NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) activism, a broken permitting process and a system that allows limitless challenges by opponents. If we tear down these impediments, we could create 1.9 million jobs annually. That would be a huge leap forward!
These proposals for job creation have a critical point in common: They don’t require federal funding. So as lawmakers juggle the twin priorities of job creation and deficit reduction, these are the kinds of initiatives that we should move on right away.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.