Rah-Rah for Retrofits

By / 4.22.2010

We’ve heard a lot of doom and gloom on environmental topics recently, with progressives providing dark statistics about escalating carbon levels and conservative rebutting with stormy predictions of economic eclipse.

But Earth Day is supposed to be a feel-good day. And, as Thomas Friedman argued yesterday, when you start winning, everything becomes easier. That’s why President Obama’s victory on health care helped led National Security Advisor Jim Jones’ to declare that “America is back” on the world stage.

So it’s fitting that Vice President Joe Biden yesterday announced just under a half-billion dollars worth of stimulus monies for efficiency retrofits. In a little over a year, the administration has won a surprising number of victories in the push to mine “negawatts” through efficiency. Where we were slouching toward disaster through the laissez-faire, do-nothing inertia of the prior administration, we are now plowing toward a brighter, cleaner horizon.

Among other highlights, Biden announced that $20 million will be distributed to cities in the southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to dramatically increase the effectiveness of retrofits across the region. The new programs will use a pay-for-performance approach to finance affordable, accessible programs for both small and large residential, commercial and public buildings. But that’s just one of dozens of programs spread through Boulder to Camden, Cincinnati to Seattle.

What’s not to like? These projects pay for themselves. They work with local and state governments to quickly upgrade buildings. They employ local workers and are the quintessence of “shovel-ready.” And perhaps most importantly, they showcase in very public ways the powerful nexus of public works and progressive policy. These are wins — and, hopefully, preludes to victory this summer, as the administration and Congress turn to the effort to price carbon.