Finding 'Triple Happiness' by Saving Taxpayer Money, Saving Energy and Creating Jobs

As a recovering Governor I know that states and municipalities are the laboratories of democracy for our nation. The work done in states and local communities to save energy is critical to helping not only ease budget pressures, but also in giving the federal government some great examples of what can work. Similarly, the federal government and our nation can benefit from smarter, greener federal building.

This weekend I was back in Delaware -- as I am most weekends -- and I was driving home from an appointment. I was making great time. I think the only person who could have made better time is Vice President Biden, and he has about a dozen Secret Service cars that ferry him around Delaware these days.

As I was driving, I got stuck behind one of those Chinatown buses -- the large coach buses that go between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington for about $3 each way. While those buses may excel in affordability, they often fail when it comes to speed.

As I crept forward, trapped behind the bus, there was nothing I could really do except read the back of this huge white bus. And so for about 20 solid minutes I stared at the back of the bus which was emblazoned with the phrase "Double Happiness." Apparently, that was the name of the bus line. "Double Happiness."

I was struck by the calming, Zen-like quality of the name. I thought it might be a good phrase to describe what we're seeking when we talk about pushing the federal government to reduce its energy use. My hope is that we might be able to achieve some "Triple Happiness."

For example, becoming wiser with how the federal government uses its energy can
help us do three things. One, it helps us protect the environment by lowering emissions and greenhouses gases released into the air. Two, it helps us ease help us ease the enormous budgetary pressures facing our federal government. And three, it helps to create jobs for Americans while reducing the amount of oil we have to import from overseas.

Why is this effort to save the federal government money by saving energy so important? Between 2001 and 2009 we ran up as much new debt than in the first 208 years of our nation's history. Last year, we ran up what may be the largest budget deficit in our nation's history. Things may be improving somewhat, but we're still facing an ocean of red ink for as far at the eye can see.

In part because of these kinds of problems, the federal government has rarely enjoyed the reputation of being good at managing things. There is perhaps no better example than the way in which we have traditionally managed our federal property.

Earlier this year, President Obama announced plans for federal agencies to reduce their greenhouse gas pollution by over 25 percent by 2020. According to the Office of Management and Budget, this represents between $8 billion and $11 billion in cost savings over that period. Creating more energy efficient and sustainable federal buildings can help us meet these goals.

The annual energy bill for the federal government is around $25 billion. Of that, over $7 billion alone is spent on energy to operate federal buildings. That's a big total that is ripe for savings.

The federal government alone owns and operates some 500,000 buildings. President Obama issued an executive order early in his term directing federal agencies to achieve zero net energy by 2030. He also urged agencies to use sustainable and energy efficient design principles for all new construction and retrofits. At least 15 percent of existing buildings need to meet these guiding principles by fiscal year 2015.

A focus on more energy conscious operations has had a number of successful examples in the private sector, as well as here in the federal government. For example, when Bill Ford became chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company in 2001, he was determined not only to turn the troubled company around, but also to make it more environmentally sustainable.

When Ford first took the helm of the company, he said it was his intention to ''transform a 20th century industrial icon into a model of 21st century sustainable manufacturing.'' There is no greater example of this effort than the Ford River Rouge auto plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

Once in decay, that plant now serves as a world-class test lab for sustainable manufacturing practices. Looking at the balance sheets for Ford in the past few years, it's clear that this has not only been an environmentally responsible path forward, but a profitable one as well.

The U.S. Postal Service has also provided clear leadership in this area. This is not only because senior leadership at the Postal Service and postal employees believe in the importance of lowering their impact on the environment, but because they see it as a smart business decision.

As many of you are aware, the Postal Service continues to face enormous financial difficulties. They believe environmentally sustainable building and operations are a clear way to cut fat from their operations. In three of the Postal Services' processing and distribution plants, they cut energy consumption by over 30 percent in a little over a year. Among other things, they did it by replacing old, leaky seals on dock loading doors and started using more energy efficient lighting.

It's estimated that between 20 and 50 percent of the energy we use in our homes and offices is for lighting. This is a pretty simple and inexpensive way that we can save a lot of energy and money.

Whether you're one of the nation's largest auto manufacturers, or delivering mail and packages to hundreds of millions of homes and businesses each day, the business case for pursuing more energy efficient operations is made clear in dollars and cents.

The federal government simply can't afford not to take advantage of the savings promised by making itself more energy efficient and sustainable. In order to help agencies meet the fiscal and environmental challenges ahead, I am pleased today to introduce the Reducing Federal Energy Dollars Act of 2011. This bill is affectionately known as The R-FED Act.

The R-FED Act is comprehensive set of proposals to -- among other things -- make it easier for federal agencies to use private financing to pay for energy efficient retrofits, at little or no cost to taxpayers.

Agencies face tight budget conditions today and will likely face them for years to come. Given this reality, these private financing tools -- known as "Energy Savings Performance Contracts" -- will be critical to improving our federal buildings and reaching the energy reduction goals of the federal government.

According to the Department of Energy, as of March 2010, 550 Energy Savings Performance Contracts were awarded to 25 agencies in 49 states. I'm told they generated $11 billion in energy cost savings, $9.6 billion of which goes to fund the energy projects and $1.4 billion was in reduced government spending.

These projects save money as they save energy and under law, each project must be measured, verified and guaranteed.

I believe these projects are a great tool and it's my hope we can expand their use throughout government to reach the ambitious energy reduction goals set out by the Congress and this President.

In addition to Energy Savings Performance Contracts, the R-FED Act also includes proposals to: increase transparency and accountability for how much energy federal agencies are using, update outdated and inefficient building designs and better manage the energy use of personal computers used at federal agencies.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate and House in moving the bill forward this session. I believe there are a lot of common sense, bipartisan proposals in my bill and elsewhere that can push the federal government to become more energy efficient and help agencies reach the mandates set out under the law.

I also want to thank the U.S. Green Building Council and its members for voicing their support for the bill as well.

One of the questions I ask myself frequently is: How can industry and the federal government work together toward reaching "Triple Happiness?"

For me, I believe the federal government can be most effective by leveraging its enormous buying power. We're a big dollar buyer and by investing in green technology we can help bring innovative products to the marketplace. We have a real role to play in advancing innovation and making sure our federal facilities are not only keeping up, but leading the way.

This could be done through a national clean energy standard. This would require some percentage of our electricity to come from low -- or zero -- pollution technologies, such as the wind turbines being built off the shores of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, or of Maryland, New Jersey and a number of other coastal states. Or, we could encourage the largest energy consumer in our economy -- the U.S. government -- to buy or help produce more energy from clean sources.

In 1993, President Clinton issued an executive order requiring the U.S. government to purchase recycled paper. By creating more demand for recycled paper, this initiative helped lower the price of recycled paper for everyone else. I think it's clear that a similar approach, when it comes to green and high performance building technology and design, could again leverage the federal government's purchasing power and ultimately make those innovations more affordable for American families and businesses.

The U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools is a great example of how the private sector can bring together technical knowledge and best practices to help government excel in this area. The Center for Green Schools helps to drive change in how local school districts design, so that those districts can cut operational costs while at the same time enhancing student learning experiences. A student will enjoy his or her time in the classroom more with better lighting and cooling systems, or just a more beautiful building. And dollars that would have been spent on kilowatts can now to go books and test tubes.

I have seen the positive impact of this kind of building first hand in Seaford, Delaware. The Seaford School District is a rural school system in southern Delaware. Beginning in 2005, the district implemented an energy management plan, ultimately reducing its energy consumption by more than 15 percent annually. As a result, the district is saving an estimated $100,000 in annual energy costs and preventing nearly one million pounds of harmful carbon emissions per year.

To me, this is a perfect example of how private innovation and public leadership can work together to use taxpayer dollars more effectively, and at the same time better care for our environment. Particularly in times like these when we're struggling with a massive federal deficit, we need to work together to foster what I call a "culture of thrift" in the federal government where we spend prudently to get a bigger bang for the taxpayers' buck. This requires looking into every nook and cranny of government -- including our federal property management practice -- and asking: Is it possible to get better results for less money? Improving federal energy efficiency may not sound sexy, but the savings are real and significant. If we're serious about addressing our federal budget deficit and restoring our nation's fiscal soundness for my own children and for yours, then we can't keep wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on energy costs that could be avoided.

If we can accomplish this, while at the same time creating good-paying jobs here at home and saving energy -- well, it sounds like "Triple Happiness" to me.