By William Mebane*
Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis reminds us, “Every so often when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just: you have to say: no, no, no.“
Trump’s repeated attempts to cancel two of the most successful programs for lower and middle-class families to reduce their energy bills through weatherization and other energy improvements is not right, not just, nor fair.
In the recent budget for the fiscal year 2020, the Trump administration proposes to eliminate funding for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), (US Government, 2019). Residential energy is a life-critical resource, and both programs were designed to help our country’s most vulnerable households manage energy burdens and crises during cold winters and hot summers.
The Weatherization Assistance Program, created in 1976 has served millions of families reducing their energy burden and making their homes healthier. The DOE has stated that for every $1 invested by the DOE, the program leverages an additional $0.80 in other federal, state, utility and private resources. Not surprisingly WAP is very popular with state governors. The average savings of natural gas is 17.8% post-weatherization, but outstandingly on an average cost to weatherize a home of $4,695 (the DOE share was 48%) the non-energy benefits amounted to $14,000! These include in order of importance: alleviation of cold stress, reduction in asthma, improvement in drug prescription adherence, increased productivity at work (improved sleep), increased productivity at home (improved sleep), alleviation of heat stress, reduction in food assistance, reduction in home fires, and other benefits. “Compared to the average US households, the households that WAP serves are more likely to be: elderly, have a disabled person, have a young child, be a single parent household, and be less healthy.” (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2014)
Instead, LIHEAP was created with the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Act of 1981 with the complimentary objective of making grants to the States ”to assist low-income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes, that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs.” (Public Law, 1981) LIHEAP also funds many of the home improvements of WAP. Thus the programs have common energy, health, and productivity benefits. And by the way, both reduce carbon dioxide and combat climate warming.
Trump, whose private buildings do have adequate weatherization because he knows as a builder it saves money, is not so generous as to help the most impoverished families do the same – even though these families live in cities and rural areas from all of the States where he carried the election.
Instead, the good news is that Congress has bipartisan support for these highly effective, well-proven programs. In the last two years Congress has overridden Trump’s meanness, approving funding for both; and in January of this year U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Joanne Shaheen (D-HN) have reintroduced a bill to prevent unnecessary delays in the distribution of funds to WAP (NASCP, 2019).
And last Friday regarding the most significant federal measure for mitigating climate warming, we learned that California’s Air Resources Board is “suing the administration for information that might support the federal governments claim that the proposed weakening of auto emissions would save lives.” (Egelko, B., 2019) The administration’s claim that the rollback would reduce traffic deaths by about 1000 deaths per year is in contrast to a recent detailed study (Bento et al., 2018) and earlier analysis by the EPA.
Both with WAP and the previously proposed auto fuel economy standards we have excellent existing programs that save money, save energy, improve health, increase productivity, and mitigate climate warming. To scrap all this, we must say: no, no, no.
Bento, A., et al., Science, December 7, 2018: Flawed analysis of US auto fuel economy standards.
Egelko, B., April 5, 2019, San Francisco Chronicle April 5, 2019, , see: https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/California-sues-Trump-administration-over-13745681.php
NASCSP (National Association for State Community Services Programs) News January 23, 2019, see: https://nascsp.org/news/senators-reintroduce-bipartisan-legislation-to-prevent-delays-in-wap-sep-funding/
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, September 2014, Report ORNL/TM-2014, pages 4, 9,12 and 27
Public Law 97-35, 1981, Section 2602, LOW-INCOME HOME ENERGY ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1981 (Title XXVI of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, Public Law 97-35, as amended)
U.S. Government, March 2019, Appendix, Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, pages 385 and 463.
*The writer is former Director of Energy Efficiency Department at ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development. Sent to OtherNews by the author, on April 10, 2019