Madam President, I rise today to talk about a critical issue that I think the Pope's arrival today in Washington really highlights, and I am hopeful we will be addressing it in this Chamber.
I wanted to join Senator Whitehouse yesterday. He has been an unwavering voice on the need for Congress to take legislative action to address climate change. He hit a milestone in May of this year by giving his 100th speech on the floor calling on his colleagues to act on climate change. He has also brought together a group of Senators to form a climate action task force, and I am proud to be a member of the group.
I believe we need a strong energy agenda for America, one that recognizes the challenges of climate change and that empowers people to be part of the solution.
The Pope has called climate change ``one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.'' He has gained international attention for his commitment to protecting our world and serving those in need. Thursday, when we have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear from the Pope as he addresses Congress, I anticipate he will call on all Americans to come together to tackle many challenges, but among them is climate change.
During my time in the Senate, we have made some progress on this issue. In 2008 we took action to raise gas mileage standards for cars for the first time in decades. We have also made energy efficiency improvements for consumer goods and have maintained tax credits for energy-efficient products and renewable sources. We passed farm bills in 2008 and again in 2014 with a large number of conservation, environment, and energy groups strongly supporting them. As a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, I have ensured that the energy title promoted investment in the next generation of biofuels crops, which are important renewable sources of energy. Earlier this year, we passed the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Portman and Shaheen. It included the Water Heater Efficiency Act, which I worked on with Senator Hoeven. This bipartisan measure enabled rural electric co-ops to optimize their energy management through continued use of energy-efficient water heaters. It also included measures to encourage energy efficiency practices in office spaces. These achievements are thanks to a combination of many factors. It continues to be the case that we need bipartisanship to move sound energy policy forward. And while we have taken some action, there is so much more to be done.
This summer, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed a bipartisan, comprehensive energy bill. I commend Chairwoman Murkowski for her tireless efforts and SenatorCantwell for her introduction today of the Energy bill--a bill I am a sponsor of--which sets a bar on comprehensive energy policy reform that would aggressively move our country forward in addressing climate change. Both of these pieces of legislation include the bill I have with Senator Hoeven, the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act, which would allow the nonprofit community to save energy and money through a retrofit program.
During my time in the Senate, I have worked to find innovative solutions that move us forward. One example is this bill. Our bill empowers the nonprofit and faith communities to make energy efficiency improvements. It would help both our environment and our local communities by ensuring nonprofit organizations can benefit from policies that promote greater energy savings and efficiencies.
Whether feeding the hungry, helping the sick, or mentoring youth, my State's nearly 7,000 nonprofit organizations work hard every day to make a difference in people's lives.
Nonprofit organizations are at the heart of our country and serve millions of Americans every day. Houses of worship, hospitals, schools, youth centers, and other not-for-profit entities provide critical services and assistance to communities across the country, but like businesses they must count their pennies and operate on a budget. Right now, nonprofit organizations--which, by the way, are often in very old buildings, including churches, synagogues, mosques--cannot benefit from any of the energy efficiency programs available to regular businesses because these programs are provided in the form of tax credits, and because nonprofits are tax exempt they can't get these credits. That often leaves nonprofits with a difficult choice. They can either invest in energy efficiency projects or they can dedicate their very scarce resources to providing valuable resources to the community, but we know investing in energy efficiency improvements today can lead to savings over time that go beyond the cost of the initial investment. So our nonprofits find themselves asking this question: Should we help fewer people for a year or two in order to replace our heating system and then use the long-term savings to serve our community well into the future? That is not a choice they should have to make.
Our bill provides $10 million each year for the next 5 years to create a pilot program at the U.S. Department of Energy that would help local nonprofit organizations make their buildings more energy efficient. The grants would promote energy efficiency in savings by helping to upgrade and retrofit old buildings as well as installing renewable energy generators and heaters. We worked to ensure that the grants will achieve a significant amount 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 nonprofits. This will be especially valuable to the many nonprofit organizations that work from older, less energy-efficient buildings.
We are taking a fiscally responsible approach. Our amendment is fully offset. We have support from both sides of the aisle with not just Senator Hoeven and myself but Senators Stabenow,Risch, Schatz, Blunt, Mikulski, Whitehouse, and Udall. I am proud to say we have the support of many religious organizations and nonprofits, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that has been a leading supporter of our efforts. They say the bill would enable them to reduce their operating costs, lessen impact on their environment, and bolster America's energy independence.
The bill is now part of both the Energy Policy Modernization Act that recently passed in a bipartisan manner out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and it is also part of the bill Senator Cantwell introduced this morning. Although Senators may differ on the specific details of these two energy plans, I believe we can find broad agreement that energy efficiency must be a part of any energy plan. Energy efficiency is an issue we should be able to find common ground on. It is good for the economy, good for consumers, and good for the environment.
I urge my fellow Senators to work together to keep taking real steps forward on meaningful energy legislation that does something about climate change.
As we prepare to welcome Pope Francis to this Congress, it is time to pass legislation that will help nonprofits continue to serve our communities and conserve our natural resources for generations to come.
I yield the floor.