GovSpeak: EISA

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) (we pronounce it “Eee-sa”) is sometimes called the light bulb bill for phasing out most incandescents. It has been called “the most sweeping energy efficiency legislation in U.S. history” by the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.

Originally named the Clean Energy Act of 2007, the bill was introduced in the House as part of the Democratic Party’s 100-Hour Plan at the outset of the 110th Congress. Sponsored by Nick Rahall (D-WV) and co-sponsored by 198 other members, a bill that Speaker Pelosi called “a first step toward a future of energy independence” passed without amendment on January 18, 2007. A very different version of the legislation was introduced in the Senate that June, leading to months of amendments and negotiation. Opponents, while recognizing energy efficiency as contributing to national security, argued that including provisions to cut oil subsidies would increase the cost of domestic oil production and threaten oil industry jobs, while toughening fuel economy standards would raise the cost and lower demand for new cars. Outcry over proposed improvements in lighting efficiency was particularly loud, with some asserting that legislating light bulb choice in private homes would violate the Constitution. Proponents of the bill countered that changes in tax policy for the oil industry would support investment in renewable energy resources and reduce oil imports, improve air quality and grow jobs. The White House warned that President Bush would veto the bill over the tax change issue, and a version little resembling the original, without oil industry taxes, passed the Senate on December 13. The House approved the final version, 314-100, on December 18, and Bush signed the bill into law the next day, calling EISA “a major step forward in expanding the production of renewable fuels, reducing our dependence on oil, and confronting global climate change.”

Why do federal lessors care?

EISA changed the game in federal leasing with this simple clause: “…no Federal agency shall enter into a contract to lease space in a building that has not earned the Energy Star label in the most recent year.”  This Energy Star requirement went into effect on December 19, 2010 and initially was applied by GSA so literally that, for a period of time, brand-new buildings–even those LEED-certified–were ineligible for federal occupancy because they were not Energy Star designated (Energy Star designation requires at least 12 months of occupancy). Fortunately, GSA later refined its Energy Star policy such that it still complies with the spirit of EISA yet is also sane.

The legislation is also notable because it demonstrates that energy efficiency issues are bi-partisan at their core. Conservatives may focus on the “energy independence” virtues and liberals may focus on the “climate change” merits but both parties agree that energy efficiency is important. Since the passage of EISA, increasing budget pressures ensure that any policy yielding reduced operating costs will have universal political appeal.