Legislative Update: Heaving the Weatherization Assistance Boulder over the Hill

– Bob Scott, Director, Energy Services, NASCSP and Brad Penney, General Counsel, NASCSP –

Sometimes getting anything done in Washington feels like trying to push a giant boulder over a hill. In this case, over Capitol Hill. All you can do is keep pushing, year after year. When, suddenly, you reach the top the boulder starts picking up speed on its own. The trick is to not give up pushing, but instead give it all you’ve got, just as you’re about to round the top.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s low-income Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is about to have its hilltop moment this week provided, of course, that it gets the extra heave it needs to round the summit. An amendment to the Budget Resolution sponsored by Senators Reed and Collins passed in the Senate on Friday, adding $50 million in budget authority for the Weatherization Assistance Program in FY 2014.  It’s a small step, but it represents the Senate’s growing recognition, however belated, of the importance of Weatherization Assistance to the nation’s economy, and that allowing its funding crisis to continue unchecked is a move in the wrong direction.

It’s a sad irony that the households that can least afford it, pay the highest energy bills. The Weatherization Assistance Program has bundled together funding from the federal and state governments, as well as from utilities and other sources, to weatherize 7.3 million low-income homes, making energy-saving improvements to their building envelopes, heating and cooling systems, electrical system, and electricity-consuming appliances. The program directly supports more than 10,000 high-skill jobs in the green technology sector that’s proving so critical to our national economy’s long-term health. Not to mention the many more jobs it supports in the businesses that work this burgeoning field.

So what’s the problem? Funded at only $68 million, the program risks dying on the vine, literally leaving millions of Americans out in the cold. Yesterday’s resolution amendment adding another $50 million, though, shows that the boulder may at long last be reaching the summit. So how do we heave it over the top? The budget resolution is non-binding. That is, it doesn’t have the force of law. We need to get as many Senators as possible on Monday to sign on to Senators Reed and Collins’ letter to the Secretary urging just that.