Orthodox advocacy groups welcomed the reintroduction of bipartisan legislation aimed at helping nonprofits improve energy efficiency and generate renewable energy in their facilities.
The bill, known as the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act, is sponsored by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) and John Hoeven (R-N. Dak.), who list the Orthodox Union (OU) among official supporters together with several Christian groups.
“America’s synagogues, churches and other nonprofits need and want to decrease their energy consumption by modernizing their outdated infrastructure, but most don’t have the resources to do so,” said Nathan Diament, the OU’s Executive Director for Public Policy. “The bipartisan Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act will provide this much-needed assistance to decrease their energy footprints while at the same time enabling them to allocate greater funding for programs and services. Funding these projects will also support thousands of jobs for those workers who will manufacture and install the energy efficiency building improvements.”
The bill would provide $10 million over the next five years to create a pilot grant program to purchase materials that promote efficient energy use, improving environmental responsibility and saving organizations on power bills. Funds would be available to houses of worship and other religious entities, which can apply for $200,000 grants for upgrading existing infrastructure as well as the purchase of items like renewable energy generators and heaters.
According to data referenced by the OU, non-profits spend roughly 5%-7% of their yearly budgets on energy expenses.
“These upgrades will enable these organizations to improve their energy usage and lower operating costs so they can invest more of their limited resources into providing valuable services to their communities,” said Sen. Hoeven.
“This bipartisan legislation is a win-win – it’s beneficial for the environment, nonprofits and the communities they serve,” said Sen. Klobuchar.
The legislation was first introduced in 2013 as part of a larger energy package that was never brought for a floor vote in either house of Congress. Since then it has been reintroduced several times. Supporters hope that it can now advance as part of an infrastructure package the Biden administration is currently working on.
The bill did meet opposition from the ACLU and a number of left-leaning religious groups, including the Union for Reform Judaism, who objected to making the grants available to houses of worship on the grounds that it violated separation of church and state.
Nevertheless, should sponsors attach it to broader legislation, the bill is not expected to meet significant resistance to passage.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director for the Agudath Israel of America, said the bill could provide much-needed help to community institutions.
“We are very pleased that the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act has been reintroduced in the Senate,” he said. “The $10 million pilot program will help nonprofits, including shuls, yeshivas and other community institutions to effectively modernize their equipment and increase their energy efficiency. This will ultimately result in lower overhead costs and allow these entities to reallocate resources toward better serving the families and children in their communities. And as nonprofits comprise such an active sector across the nation, increasing efficiency will leave a positive mark on the country’s overall energy emissions.”