Open Back Better Act Does Economic Recovery Right | Alliance to Save Energy
06/25/20 : Ellie Long

Open Back Better Act Does Economic Recovery Right

Alliance blog

“If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that being prepared and having the right infrastructure in place are critical to our response capabilities.” - Alliance Interim President Clay Nesler

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear our aging infrastructure was not ready for a crisis of this scale. It’s also unfortunately evident that the economic fallout from this pandemic will have no quick fix, but will require long-term, targeted stimulus to provide families with relief and get millions of displaced workers back on the job. This unprecedented crisis calls for bold solutions to address our infrastructure’s state of disrepair and prepare our country for future emergencies.

That’s why we are thrilled to see Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) take an admirable step forward in helping our country recover the right way with the announcement of the Open Back Better Act of 2020. This legislation, introduced in both chambers on Wednesday, invests in our mission critical public facilities to make them more efficient, safe, resilient, and flexible while creating well-paying jobs for communities. The act aligns with the Mission Critical Facility Renewal program proposed by the Alliance and other groups by providing $20 billion over four years for federal, state, and local buildings including schools, hospitals, community centers, and additional facilities approved by the Secretary of Energy.

This investment is good for the economy, good for public health, and good for community resiliency. By leveraging funds with energy saving performance contracts to access private funding, $20 billion in federal spending could result in more than $100 billion of total investment, helping to reemploy hundreds of thousands of energy efficiency workers who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. Much of the project cost would pay for itself through savings from energy efficiency improvements.

This act also prepares our facilities (including schools, whose crumbling state was recently highlighted in a GAO report) for the daunting task of reopening by addressing issues such as indoor air quality. Focused support would be provided to environmental justice communities and low-income communities with assurances that 40% of grant funds allocated under the State Energy Program go to these areas hit hardest by the virus. Finally, the legislation can prepare the U.S. for future emergencies, including the climate crisis, by reducing harmful emissions and building in flexibility so facilities can best serve their communities.

All of this can be achieved on a timeline that respects the urgency of the situation by delivering the funding through existing Department of Energy (DOE) programs: the State Energy Program, Federal Energy Management Program, and the Office of Indian Energy.

“We can put people back to work and come out of this crisis better prepared if we make the right investments and leverage available federal funding with private finance through public-private partnerships… Congress should pass this bill immediately to help rebuild the economy and get hundreds of thousands of energy efficiency workers back to work,” Clay said.

Thank you to Sen. Smith and Rep. Blunt Rochester for their leadership and for recognizing the importance of building back better from this crisis. We at the Alliance look forward to working with Congress on important legislation that invests in energy efficiency.

Ask your members of Congress to support mission critical facility renewals, along with other proposals that will protect energy efficiency workers, save consumers money, and deliver environmental benefits.