It is known that buildings account for 37 percent of total energy use in the United States, compared to 37 percent for industry and 26 percent for transportation.
I keep harping about job creation because I am increasingly frustrated by our elected leaders’ (1) seeming lack of interest in this core problem, and (2) lack of creative ideas about how to bring down unemployment and underemployment (at least 24 million Americans suffer from one or the other). So once more into the breach.
Here is a simple idea that could (1) reduce joblessness while (2) cutting taxes, (3) increase tax revenues by growing the number of taxpayers, and (4) substantially reduce energy consumption thus (5) moderating environmental damage. I am talking about weatherization, which also has the great advantage of being able to be implemented immediately without a pre-launch phase or new bureaucracy — and with immediate positive results.
No one knows exactly how many buildings — single-family homes, condos, apartment buildings, mobile homes, institutional (schools, hospitals, government buildings et al.) and office buildings, shopping malls, commercial warehouses, manufacturing facilities, etc. — there are in the United States. Estimates range up to more than 1 billion. There are approximately 85 million single-family houses, for example, and more than 45 million rental units.
It is known that buildings account for 37 percent of total energy use in the United States, compared to 37 percent for industry and 26 percent for transportation, according to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study. Thanks to low energy prices for most of our history, most existing buildings were constructed with little concern for energy efficiency.
Here is how weatherization could achieve the objectives I outlined above:
(1) Reducing joblessness. Retrofitting hundreds of millions of structures requires a substantial work force, including energy auditors, HVAC and other contractors, insulators, window installers, etc. In addition, the demand for weatherization products would jump, requiring thousands of manufacturers to hire additional workers.
(2) Cutting taxes. This is where Congress and state legislatures need to come in and enact long-term individual and business weatherization tax credits large enough to provide a powerful incentive to retrofit buildings. The current miserly energy tax credits are a non-starter.
(3) Increasing tax revenues. A national weatherization program would produce a large number of new taxpayers from among the new hires needed to implement the policy, many of whom now not only do not pay taxes, but receive unemployment insurance.
(4) Reducing energy consumption. The short-lived history of weatherization as a national policy priority (approximately 18 months between mid-1979 and January, 1981) yielded impressive conservation results.
(5) Moderating environmental damage. Coal as a feedstock for electricity accounts for 60 percent of building energy supplies. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. “Clean coal” is, for the foreseeable future, a myth.
Weatherization would also generate a huge multiplier effect benefiting not only those directly involved, but also everyone else in unrelated economic sectors — retail, professional services, general manufacturing, consumers, etc.
The only objection I envision is a purely political one, that being that weatherization’s positive impact might benefit President Obama’s re-election prospects, anathema to Republicans. The way around that would be broad bipartisan sponsorship of such an initiative germinating in Congress and not the Administration, so that both parties could take credit.
Finally, this should not only be a federal program. State legislatures also need to get on board.
Email Richard Hermann care of Messenger Post Media at firstname.lastname@example.org.