Springtime in Washington: Congress is busy, go figure.

Yesterday the House finally passed their version of the long-awaited energy efficiency bill, the same one that started two Congresses ago. The bill of record is S 535, this year's Senate version of Portman-Shaheen, which has been passed in different iterations the last two years. In fact, S 535 is the bill that passed the Senate under their Unanimous Consent rule at 4am, just after passing their budget resolution and just before going home for the spring recess. Further the House has passed this bill at least twice--it's bipartisan (Whitfield-Welch), and long supported by industry stakeholders, including the electricity industry, especially NRECA and APPA.

The bill's main thrust is water heaters--to thwart new DOE rules against old-fashioned large electric resistance water heaters, used mainly by rural coops and some smaller muni systems. But this this was mostly a coop operation led by NRECA--they've been at this for over a year. In the end, the vote too about 10 minutes on the House floor.

Chairman Whitfield led the debate, watched by about 10 Members. Peter Welch of VT also spoke in support of, mainly because of the EE provisions related to federal buildings, and Rep,. Bobby Rush, the ranking sub Member, also spoke for the coops. Whitfield said about 250 coops in 34 states still use these water heaters as part of their demand response energy programs. The new DOE rules, which went into effect April 16, would have banned the manufacture of the old school heaters, a victory for GE a few years ago when they pushed the regs onto DOE in the first place.

Whitfield claimed the new regs typify why people accuse the government of "micromanagement" when it comes to environmental regulation, and said the regs would double the cost of purchasing new ones. It also called S 535 a "commonsense approach" to the issue. The bill passed by voice vote with no dissent, and since the Senate already approved its version, is expected to be signed soon by the White House. The bill doesn't vacate the DOE rule, it adjusts it to allow the continuation of the manufacturing of the old water heaters--as long as they are enrolled in a certified demand response program.

Victory, at last.