Biden: Fix that drafty roof
By Alec MacGillis
Just in time for the first New England snow, Vice President Biden today announced a new federal initiative to encourage Americans to weatherize their homes, thereby reducing heating bills and carbon emissions and helping to produce jobs.
Biden spoke about the program Monday morning at the Old Executive Office Building, where he was joined by several Cabinet secretaries who highlighted the billions the stimulus act already is directing toward energy efficiency projects, such as weatherizing low-income people's homes, federal buildings and public housing. There's just one difference: the new initiative doesn't actually involve any new spending.
Instead, the idea behind the Recovery Through Retrofit program is to make it easier -- and more appealing -- for homeowners who don't qualify for weatherization grants to spend their own money on better insulation. The government wants to create a national standard for the energy efficiency of houses, so that people buying a house would know how well insulated it is, just as they know the mileage of the cars they buy. That way homeowners investing in energy efficiency upgrades can be certain that their investment was worth it.
The initiative would also make it easier than it is today for buyers to roll the cost of an upgrade at the time of a home purchase into their mortgage on the house, or to spread the cost of the investment out by rolling it into their property tax payments. And it would provide incentives, using $390 million from the stimulus package, for whole blocks or neighborhoods to get energy efficiency upgrades at once, with bigger discounts for the neighborhoods that get the most residents to participate.
Biden and Cabinet secretaries Steven Chu (Energy), Hilda Solis (Labor) and Shaun Donovan (Housing and Urban Development) said the initiative would, if carried to its fullest, save homeowners up to 40 percent of their energy costs and reduce carbon emissions as much as would taking 30 million cars off the road, since home energy produces about a fifth of the nation's emissions. In the process, they said, it would produce jobs at energy auditing and weatherizing firms and their suppliers.
"This is what recovery is all about," Biden said. "It's putting the government in position where we're creating jobs. This is not going to create a million jobs overnight ... but this is a way we can begin to rebuild this economy."
Biden's comments came in advance of a planned trip to Warsaw to assuage concerns in Poland and the Czech Republic about the U.S.'s recent decision not to place new missile defense installations in those countries.
His mind may have already been on the plane, for he made a classic Bidenism in giving a big shout-out to two members of the audience, SEIU president Andy Stern and his second in command, Anna Burger. Biden called Burger "Carol Burger," only to correct himself a moment later with the excuse that he "went to school with Carol Burger." Closing his speech ten minutes later, he said he was going to Poland to "deal with another energy issue, national missile defense."
Posted at 1:27 PM ET on Oct 19, 2009
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