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Federal File

Coverage of legislation and regulatory activity that affects higher education

By Liz Clark and Sally Grans-Korsh

Bipartisan Energy-Efficiency Legislation Fails to Advance, Again

On May 12, for a second time, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance bipartisan energy-efficiency legislation via the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, championed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH). While the legislation itself is regarded as noncontroversial, election-year political maneuvering over unrelated amendments on the Keystone XL pipeline and floor debate procedures led to the setback.

For a second time, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance bipartisan energy-efficiency legislation via the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act.

Sen. Portman said that day, "Today's failure to move forward on a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill is yet another disappointing example of Washington's dysfunction. It's a sad day in the U.S. Senate when more than 270 organizations—from business to environmental groups—can get behind a good, bipartisan effort, but we can't get votes on a few amendments to pass it."

NACUBO had hoped that a "Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Financing Initiative," also would be included in the energy-efficiency legislation. The proposal, included in early versions of the Shaheen-Portman legislation, would have provided grants for energy-efficiency retrofits; and NACUBO sought to ensure that colleges and universities would be eligible. The section was dropped from subsequent versions of the legislation.

An Earlier Failed Effort

Last September, when the Senate had first attempted to bring the energy-efficiency legislation to the floor, the discussion quickly fell victim to partisan bickering over the Affordable Care Act and the Keystone XL pipeline. Statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office about Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) during the course of debate on the measure led Vitter to accuse Reid (D-NV) of acting "like an old-time Vegas mafia thug, and a desperate one at that," in a statement to Politico.

Supportive Background for the Bill

In 2012, NACUBO jointly issued a white paper with Second Nature and the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) to look closely at new ways of financing energy and sustainability efforts at colleges and universities. The white paper, "Higher Education: Leading the Nation to a Safe and Secure Energy Future," proposes a number of federal policy options, such as:

  • Allowing colleges and universities to use tax-exempt and revenue bond financing to prepay power purchase agreements.
  • Developing new energy-efficiency and renewable-energy loan options open to institutions of higher education, including establishing a federal loan guarantee program and developing a federal revolving loan fund for energy-efficiency initiatives.
  • Extending eligibility of Clean and Renewable Energy Bonds.

Unfortunately, the paper was released just before the swearing in of the 113th Congress, which is on track—in terms of actual laws or bills passed—toward historic levels of nonproductivity.

Despite the recent setback on the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, NACUBO continues to seek policy solutions that will enable nonprofit higher education institutions of all sizes and types to further reduce energy consumption, increase efficiencies, avoid risks, and improve their long-term financial sustainability.

NACUBO CONTACT Liz Clark, director, congressional relations, 202.861.2553, lclark@nacubo.org, @lizclarknacubo

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Efforts Afoot to Reinstate and Expand Section 179D

In April, NACUBO joined 60 organizations in signing a letter to Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) supporting the extension of the energy-efficient commercial building deduction.

Section 179D, until it expired, permitted a government building owner—including public institutions of higher education—to allocate the deduction to one or more persons "primarily responsible for designing the property." This would include architects, engineers, contractors, environmental consultants, energy services providers, and the like. NACUBO supports the expansion of the provision to allow tax-exempt organizations to allocate the deduction, which would expand to also include private institutions of higher education.

The legislation passed by the committee, if signed into law, would extend the Section 179D deduction for 2014 and 2015, and for the first time would permit 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to allocate the deduction.

On April 3, the Senate Finance Committee approved tax extenders legislation, the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency (EXPIRE) Act, which would retroactively reinstate more than 50 provisions that expired on Dec. 31, 2013. The legislation passed by the committee, if signed into law, would extend the Section 179D deduction for 2014 and 2015, and for the first time would permit 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to allocate the deduction to the "person primarily responsible for designing the building."

Until Dec. 31, 2013, the provision allowed an energy-efficiency deduction up to $1.80 per square foot. The types of improvements that qualify include a facility's lighting systems; heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water systems; and exterior walls and roof.

NACUBO believes this provision and other new federal policy options could stimulate deep energy-efficiency and renewable-energy investments at colleges and universities. Slight tweaks to existing legislation can help expand energy-efficiency and conservation efforts across the higher education sector. NACUBO is closely monitoring the outlook for tax extenders legislation and ultimately expects to see a version of tax extenders legislation passed into law later this year during the post-Election Day lame-duck session of Congress.

NACUBO CONTACT Liz Clark, director, congressional relations, 202.861.2553, lclark@nacubo.org, @lizclarknacubo

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White House Issues Climate Report

On May 6, the White House released the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive source of scientific information about climate-change impacts across all U.S. regions and on critical sectors of the economy.

The report, available at www.globalchange.gov, is a part of the Climate Action Plan, which the White House describes as "concrete steps to cut carbon pollution, prepare America's communities for climate-change impacts, and lead international efforts to address this global challenge. The plan acknowledges that even as we act to reduce the greenhouse-gas pollution that is driving climate change, we must also empower the nation's communities, businesses, and individual citizens with the information they need to cope with the changes in climate that are already under way."

Despite the setbacks on Capitol Hill in advancing energy-efficiency legislation, the administration is expected to pursue climate and energy initiatives through regulatory processes and other avenues during the remainder of President Obama's second term.

NACUBO CONTACT Sally Grans-Korsh, director, facilities management and environmental policy, 202.861.2571, sgranskorsh@nacubo.org

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