Mr. President, I rise today in support of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2014. I commend Senator Shaheen and Senator Portman on their leadership and tireless efforts to craft an energy efficiency bill that is good for consumers, good for our economy, and good for our environment.
The Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill is supported by a coalition of environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the BlueGreen Alliance. It is also supported by business trade associations such as the chamber of commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. By working together on a bipartisan basis, the two Senators have put together a bill that is officially sponsored by seven Democrats and seven Republicans and I believe the vast majority of the people in this Chamber.
Although this bill is not a substitute for comprehensive energy or climate legislation, it is the right effort to put us on more secure energy footing and strengthen our economy. I have always argued that at a time when we have been having a hard time working on comprehensive energy legislation--something which I believe we should do and which would be very good for our economy--we need to get behind efforts such as this one. I am so pleased this has finally happened; however, I am not certain we will be able to get it done this week.
I believe the beneficial role energy efficiency improvements can have for consumers and also our economic competitiveness often gets overlooked in today's debate. The Shaheen-Portman bill creates new incentives to install energy-efficient technologies in homes, businesses, and manufacturing facilities that can quickly pay for themselves. The savings for consumers alone are astounding. According to a new study, Shaheen-Portman is estimated to save consumers $16 billion a year by 2030. Making these improvements will not only save consumers and businesses money, it will also create more than 190,000 jobs.
America has always been a country that benefits from the development of innovative technologies, but this bill recognizes that we don't need to reinvent the wheel or rely on a new space race to move our economy forward. This bill will lead to the installation of energy-efficient technologies that are commercially available today and can quickly pay for themselves through energy savings.
The bill doesn't just work with individuals in the private sector on a voluntary basis to encourage energy efficiency, the bill also helps the government become more efficient. Some people might question why the government should try to make energy efficiency improvements when there are so many demands for Federal resources. I believe we can't afford to needlessly waste energy and taxpayer resources on older heaters, inefficient lighting, and drafty buildings. Making commonsense improvements to our Federal buildings will pay dividends for years to come.
The Shaheen-Portman bill includes a number of commonsense provisions that will help keep energy affordable. I wish to briefly focus on one example which may not sound important at first blush but which has a big impact on the Minnesota Rural Electric Association and the consumers it serves in my State.
The rural electric co-ops strongly support a provision in the Shaheen-Portman bill that my friend and colleague from North Dakota, Senator Hoeven, introduced and that I am helping to lead, and that is to change the Department of Energy rule to ensure that large-capacity hot water heaters that are part of a demand response program can continue to be manufactured.
The rural electric co-ops in my State have installed thousands of large-capacity hot water heaters in people's basements. Heating water is a major source of energy consumption, and our co-ops have found a way to provide an important service in a way that incentivizes wind energy development and saves consumers money. These hot water heaters are only turned on at night, when the wind blows the strongest and the demand for energy is the lowest. Then in the morning, when people wake up and turn on their lights, the heaters are already off. The wind energy is stored in the form of hot water that can be used throughout the day.
This provision in the Shaheen-Portman bill will provide regulatory certainty that these heaters will continue to be available.
Another provision I worked on with Senator Hoeven was to find new opportunities to engage the nonprofit community in making energy efficiency improvements. We have an amendment that would help nonprofits--including hospitals, schools, faith-based organizations, and youth centers--make energy efficiency improvements that will help them save money and ultimately serve our people.
Our amendment, which is fully offset, has the support of Senators BLUNT, PRYOR, STABENOW, and MIKULSKI.
The amendment would provide $10 million each year for the next 5 years to create a pilot grant program so that nonprofits can save through energy efficiency. We work with stakeholders to ensure that grants will achieve significant amounts of energy savings and are done in a cost-effective manner. The grants would require a 50-percent match so that there is complete buy-in from the nonprofits, and grants would be capped at $200,000.
Our amendment has the support of the National Council of Churches, the YMCA of the USA, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, to name a few.
This provision was one of the many good ideas--many of them bipartisan--that promote energy efficiency and that we believe will be included in the bill once it is finally voted on.
I urge my colleagues to support this amendment, the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act, and also support the underlying bill. The bill, as we have discussed, would save consumers and taxpayers money, reduce energy consumption, help create jobs, and make our country more energy independent.
Another issue that can drive up the price of energy for consumers is metal, and this is the final issue I wish to talk about because I have attempted to get this bill on several other bills. I was able to pass it through the Judiciary Committee. It is a bill that is cosponsored by Senator Graham, and Senator Graham and I are leading the bill. Senator Hoeven and Senator Schumer are also cosponsors of this bill, as well as Senator Coons.
We have been working very hard on the issue of metal theft for years. It has broad support because it has struck so many electric companies and so many consumers. Houses have blown up when people take simple copper piping out of the basement and then someone turns on the gas. Literally, people have lost their lives. We had one incident in Minnesota, and we have seen others across the country. This is unbelievable, but the stars that were placed on the graves of veterans during veterans holidays have been stolen. The beer industry is strongly behind this bill. Why? Because kegs are being stolen all over the country.
Those are just things I am recalling by memory. But this is a major problem. Ask any power company or construction crew across the country or even operators of ice skating rinks in Minnesota, where one theft of a couple thousand dollars' worth literally costs the city of St. Paul millions of dollars because once they take a pipe out, they have to rebuild the entire system. Talk to any of these people and quickly learn about the growing problem of metal theft.
My bipartisan bill--the Metal Theft Prevention Act--has been filed as an amendment to the energy efficiency bill to bring attention to this important issue. The amendment is the much needed Federal response to the increasingly pervasive and damaging problem of metal theft.
Metal theft has jumped more than 80 percent in recent years, hurting businesses and threatening public safety. It is a major threat, especially to power companies.
In a recent study, the Department of Energy found that the total value of damages to industries affected by theft of copper wire alone is approximately $1 billion every single year. I have visited small electric companies in the rural areas that have been stolen from--not once, not twice, but three times. I have visited companies that have had their trucks stolen and then the thieves go out in the trucks and steal wire because people let them in because they have the electric company's truck.
They have targeted construction sites, power and phone lines, retail stores, and vacant houses. They have caused explosions in vacant buildings by stealing metal from gas lines, and they have caused blackouts by stealing copper wiring from street lights and electrical substations.
Last October four people were injured in an explosion at a University of California Berkeley electrical station. Officials blamed it on copper theft that occurred 2 hours before the explosion. As the electrical workers tried to fix it, the explosion occurred. As I mentioned, they are taking brass stars from our veterans' graves. This happened on Memorial Day of 2012. In another case that shows just how dangerous metal theft can be, Georgia Power was having a huge problem with thieves targeting a substation that feeds the entire Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. The airport was getting hit two to three times a week and surveillance didn't lead to any arrests.
This rise in incidents of metal theft across the country, the growing cost to businesses, and the danger it poses underscores the critical need for Federal action. What does our bill do? It helps combat this by requiring modest recordkeeping by recyclers of scrap metal, just keeping track of who is selling the metal. It requires limiting the value of cash transactions. This simply means they can take it in for $100 bucks, but after that they have to require a check. We have many States that are doing this but not enough. So what we are finding is people are stealing metals in Minnesota where we have a $100 cash requirement and then they are selling it in another State so they cannot be tracked.
The amendment also makes it a Federal crime to steal metal from critical infrastructure and directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review relevant penalties. The Metal Theft Prevention Act has been endorsed by the National Rural Electric Cooperate, the American Public Power Association, American Supply, Edison Electric Institute, National Electrical Contractors Association, National Association of Home Builders, National Retail Federation, U.S. Telecom Association, and about a dozen other businesses and organizations. It has the support of the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association, the Major County Sheriffs' Association, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National Association of Police Organizations.
I ask my friends who represent the scrap metal dealers to look at this coalition and to ask yourself: Is this worth it, over a $100 requirement for writing a check? Is it worth it to oppose this when buildings are blowing up and critical infrastructure is being broken into and one of the busiest airports in the country is having problems? Is it worth it to oppose a bill that has strong bipartisan support? I don't think it is. I think the interests of the consumers of this country, the interests of businesses in this country, and the interests of law enforcement should trump, and that is what should matter in this Chamber. So I hope my colleagues will look at this again and look at the bare minimum this legislation sets. It does not create that much of a burden, when all these companies that buy this scrap metal, much of which is stolen--a number of these things are stolen. A lot of these people are good. They know it doesn't matter. They are doing it in some of the States. All they are doing is keeping records and requiring a check when it is over $100. That is all we are talking about.
If we balance $1 billion in theft a year against a simple requirement of recordkeeping, I think it is pretty clear. I hope my colleagues will look at it this way, and I know their chiefs and sheriffs will tell them this must be a priority. We need to do everything we can to protect our critical industry infrastructure from unscrupulous metal thieves. I hope my colleagues support this bill when it comes up for a vote.
I yield the floor.