Including nonprofits in energy efficiency efforts

The following commentary appeared in the September 24, 2015, Eden Prairie News:

By Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Amy KlobucharThis month, I will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear directly from Pope Francis when he addresses Congress during his visit to the U.S. The pope has gained international attention for his commitment to protecting our world and serving those in need. It will be an honor to be with him in the U.S. Capitol.

The pope has recently spoken out on the need to move forward on efforts to tackle climate change. One idea that would help both our environment and our local communities is to ensure that nonprofit organizations can benefit from policies that promote greater energy savings and efficiency. I am leading a bipartisan effort with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and with the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to do just that.

Whether feeding the hungry, helping the sick or mentoring youth, Minnesota’s nearly 7,000 nonprofit organ izations work hard each day to make a difference in people’s lives. But like businesses, they must count their pennies and operate on a budget. Right now, nonprofit organizations, which include churches, synagogues and mosques,

cannot benefit from many of the energy efficiency programs that are available to businesses because these programs provide tax credits, and since nonprofits are tax-exempt, they can’t get the credits. That often leaves nonprofits with a difficult choice: They can either invest in energy efficiency projects or they can dedicate their scarce resources to providing valuable services to the community.

Sen. Hoeven and I are trying to fix this problem through the bipartisan Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act. Our bill provides funding each year for the next five years to create a pilot grant program at the U.S. Department of Energy that would help local nonprofit organizations make their buildings more energy efficient. The grants would promote energy efficiency and savings by supporting projects to upgrade and retrofit old buildings, as well as to install renewable energy generators and heaters. This will be especially valuable to the many nonprofit organizations that work from older, less energy-efficient buildings.

We are taking a fiscally responsible approach, making sure that these projects will save a significant amount of energy and that they can be completed in a cost-effective way. I am proud to say that in addition to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, our effort is supported by the National Council of Churches, the YMCA of the USA, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently voted our bill out of committee and it is headed to the Senate floor. As we prepare to welcome Pope Francis to our nation’s capital, it’s time to pass the bill and get it signed into law.

Energy efficiency is an issue we should be able to find common ground on: It is good for the economy, good for consumers, and good for our environment. It is crucial that we engage the nonprofit community, and our religious institutions, in our efforts to conserve energy and protect our natural resources for generations to come.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a Democrat from Minnesota.