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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Retrofit, Energy License Not Required

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June 2009. A chain e-mail that has been forwarded to us repeatedly in recent days says that the bill would require homeowners to retrofit their houses to meet new energy standards, and obtain a license from the Environmental Protection Agency before they could sell a home. Don’t believe it. The claims are false.

In fact, we said last summer that claims that the bill requires such things were false in our Ask FactCheck titled "Energy Bill and Exisiting Homes." So did the National Association of Realtors and National Association of Home Builders, as well as other well-known fact-checking websites. Nevertheless, these bogus claims have gotten a second wind.

A portion of the chain e-mail says:

In effect, this bill prevents you from selling your home without the permission of the EPA administrator.

To get this permission,you will have to have the energy efficiency of your home measured. Then the government will tell you what your new energy efficiency requirement is and you will be forced to make modifications to your home under the retrofit provisions of this Act to comply with the new energy and water efficiency requirements.

Then you will have to get your home measured again and get a license (called a "label" in the Act) that must be posted on your property to show what your efficiency rating is; sort of like the Energy Star efficiency rating label on your refrigerator or air conditioner. If you don’t get a high enough rating, you can’t sell.

The author of this chain e-mail either misunderstands the particular features of the bill, or is blatantly misrepresenting them.

The bill does set new national efficiency standards for new residential and commercial buildings. Those standards are outlined in Section 201. But only homes constructed after the bill became law would have to meet them, not currently existing homes.

Also, the bill, in Section 202, sets up a new building retrofit program that would give federal funds to states to provide financial assistance to homeowners who want, and volunteer, to make upgrades to their current homes. The purpose of the program is to encourage owners of existing homes to make them more energy efficient; however, they absolutely wouldn’t be required to make any changes.

The "license" the e-mail mentions refers to Section 204 of the bill, which requires the EPA to develop a program that states could voluntarily adopt to label homes, so that potential buyers and investors could have information about their energy performance characteristics. But even if a state were to implement an energy labeling program, it would only apply to homes built after the bill became law, not currently existing ones.

So nothing in the bill requires homeowners to obtain an energy license, or retrofit their house to meet energy standards as a condition of sale. That’s something the House Committee on Energy and Commerce mentioned more than once in its summary of the legislation.

The e-mail also claims that the Congressional Budget Office said that H.R. 2454 will cost each family of four $6,800 a year:

Chain e-mail: The Congressional Budget Office (supposedly non-partisan) estimates that in just a few years the average cost to every family of four will be $6,800 per year. No one is excluded.

The CBO actually said the cost would be much less than that. The nonpartisan group analyzes pieces of legislation and estimates their potential cost. CBO said that under the bill, the loss in a household’s purchasing power "would average about $460 per year over the 2012–2050 period."