AT A TIME when many are deploring the disappearance of bipartisanship and civility from the Senate floor (see above), it's worth noting that a stunning range of senators, from Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) are supporting a substantive and valuable program, which is also backed by the Teamsters, the secretary of energy and the Sierra Club. The program in question is known by the unwieldy name of Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC). In essence, it allows the federal government -- the largest energy consumer in the country -- to use private financing in order to upgrade buildings and military facilities and make them more energy-efficient. Contractors are paid afterward, out of savings generated by their work, and indeed must actually guarantee that there will be more money saved than spent. Over time, the savings may be substantial. The Department of Energy estimates that ESPC projects already completed or underway in 46 states will conserve enough energy to heat and light 200 million American homes for a year, and save taxpayers some $4 billion by cutting the federal government's energy bills.
Unfortunately, the program, originally set up in 1992, expired in October of last year, after Congress failed to pass any of several energy bills that would have reauthorized it. In the meantime, the Congressional Budget Office changed its accounting rules and decided to score the program -- meaning that it technically counts as a budget expenditure -- even though it saves money in the long term. For that reason, Congress has found it hard to move on the issue. Some 50 energy-saving projects across the country are stalled as a result, and several thousand jobs are at risk.
Now, however, in a grand and welcome show of civility, the Senate has passed an amendment to the defense reauthorization bill that would bring this small program back to life. Senators and their counterparts in the House should make sure that it remains part of the bill through the conference process. A little bit of goodwill would be a sad thing to waste.