By: Eugene Mulero
May 6, 2010
The House backed a $6 billion consumer rebate program for energy efficient home improvements that has been touted by the Obama administration.
The House passed the bill (HR 5019), 246-161, with the support of 12 Republicans on Thursday.
"The result of this will be that we will see a reduction in energy bills," said Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey, a leading backer of the rebate program, commonly called HomeStar or "cash for caulkers." It is modeled after last year's "cash for clunkers" program, which offered consumers money to trade in old cars and buy models with better energy efficiency.
The White House has endorsed the measure, saying it "will create 'green' jobs in construction and manufacturing, help consumers lower their energy bills, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
Republicans objected to the measure's cost and questioned the demand for such retrofits. They won support for a provision that would terminate the program if it increases the deficit. It was agreed to as part of a motion to recommit to the Energy and Commerce Committee, 346-68.
Most Democrats supported the motion because it also required adding language that would make households with incomes exceeding $250,000 ineligible for the rebate program, would bar participating home repair contractors from hiring anyone convicted of sexual assault or child molestation, and would bar rebates for the installation or replacement of pool heaters.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., called the motion a "complete red herring." He noted the bill was intended to create the program, not direct spending.
The bill would authorize $6 billion for two years for HomeStar and would require the Energy Department to manage the program. The measure also authorizes $600 million over two years for a separate program that provides grants to states for assisting low-income households in replacing manufactured homes built prior to 1976.
The bill would offer two levels of rebates. The first level, known as silver star, would provide rebates of $1,000 to $1,500 for basic upgrades, such as replacing water heaters or adding insulation. Rebates would be capped at $3,000 per home.
The second level, known as gold star, would allow consumers to receive a $3,000 rebate if they complete a home energy audit and make changes that cut energy costs by at least 20 percent.
Manager's Amendment Adopted
Before agreeing to the motion to recommit, the House adopted several amendments to the bill by voice vote, including a manager's package offered by Waxman.
The manager's amendment would, among other things, extend the time the Energy Department would have to designate rebate aggregators from 30 days to 60 days after enactment. It would require the department to ensure that there are a sufficient number of rebate aggregators in each state to process rebate applications.
In addition, the amendment would require that rebate aggregators distribute federal funds to qualifying contractors or vendors within 10 days of receiving funds, rather than the originally proposed 30 days.
It also would require contractors to agree to cooperate with quality assurance procedures on any work done through the rebate program, and it would require random audits of completed home renovations to check compliance with the program.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to hold a hearing this month on a companion measure (S 3177).