An energy efficiency plan inspired by a Portland lawmaker and the city of Portland’s new Clean Energy Works program could go national in a second-round economic stimulus bill being fashioned in the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s Democratic junior senator, in a Monday afternoon appearance before the Portland Tribune editorial board, said “it’s very likely” that the Oregon model for financing home energy-efficiency improvements will make it into the bill.
Merkley proposed the idea based on a law enacted by the 2009 Legislature and pushed by state Rep. Jules Bailey, D-Portland. The city of Portland became the first local government to experiment with the idea with its Clean Energy Works program.
The idea is to enable people to get low-cost loans to make home energy-saving projects, and pay back the money on their monthly utility bills. If payments are structured as envisioned, the savings on energy bills could equal the monthly loan repayments, so there is no additional monthly cost, or minimal cost, to the homeowner.
The program is designed to help people use less energy, finance improvements with no out-of-pocket costs and create “green jobs” in home energy retrofits.
The Obama administration prefers to use federal grants to pay for the improvements, Merkley said, but he’s pushing for low-cost revolving loans, so that federal funds could be used as a long-term source to pay for the home improvements.
Merkley, who just finished his first year in the Senate, said he spoke with one of his mentors, former Republican Sen. Mark Hatfield, this week about the declining civility and increased partisanship of the Senate.
Some of it is due to a change in senators’ schedules, Merkley said. They typically are in session from Monday afternoon through Friday morning, working in Senate sessions late into the night, then spending long weekends in their districts. That leaves little time to socialize with each other and build personal ties that once were common, Merkley said.
In Hatfield’s day, Merkley said, “They had relationships that made it hard to demonize each other. That has been lost.”
The rookie senator said the increasing use of the filibuster threat has meant that every major bill requires 60 votes to pass the Senate. A process originally designed to assure every senator got heard has devolved into a required “supermajority” vote on important matters, Merkley said.
That slows the process, he said, because it means important bills require at least two weeks’ of time on the Senate floor because of procedural votes. It also encourages senators to jam unrelated subjects into bills, making bills more cumbersome and difficult to read.
Merkley is researching parliamentary procedure with experts in the field, with an eye to proposing changes in the system. Two ideas being floated around the Senate are limiting the use of the 60-vote requirement at some future date, so it’s not clear that it would benefit one party or the other, he said.
Merkley predicted that the massive health insurance overhaul bill under debate in Congress would win final approval by Valentine’s Day. However, his past four predictions for when the bill would get done proved too optimistic.
Something needs to be done to reform the health care system, he said. “We have a broken system that’s doubling in price every eight years.”
And there’s a growing bulge of baby boomers hitting the age when they’ll need more health care.
“It’s not as though we’re entering a low-cost period,” he said.
Merkley also said he endorsed the two tax measures on Oregon’s Jan. 26 ballot this month, Measures 66 and 67. The measures will raise some high-end income taxes and business taxes to balance the 2009-11 budget.
Steve Law, Portland Tribune – http://www.theoutlookonline.com/news/story_2nd.php?story_id=126327102216693600