WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which Senator Susan M. Collins, R-Me., is Ranking Member, approved her bill in a committee markup session Wednesday, aimed at making the federal government, the world’s largest institutional consumer of energy, more energy efficient. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program, the federal government consumes 1.6 percent of the nation’s total energy — about $17.5 billion in annual energy costs. “Electricity at federal buildings accounts for almost half of this usage. Improving energy efficiency is not only good for the environment; it can also produce savings for taxpayers,” Senator Collins said.

Senator Collins’ bill also would require that all executive branch agencies set clear goals in order to chart progress in this critical area. “By promoting accountability for meeting existing energy efficiency mandates and by encouraging initiatives to decrease energy usage and spur innovation, this bill would help ‘green’ our federal operations,” she said. “The associated savings should improve our government’s bottom line – to the benefit of taxpayers.”

In October, Senator Collins introduced the bill, the Federal Agency Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2009, S 1830. She did so citing evidence which shows that when federal agencies implement energy savings initiatives, significant savings follow. For example, environmental management systems at two U.S. Department of Energy laboratories led to more than $16.6 million in cost savings and avoidance within a four-year period. Joining as co-sponsors of the legislation were Committee Chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Senator Tom Carper, D-Del.

“The bill also would enable government agencies at all levels – federal, state and local – to share energy-saving technologies in order to continue lowering taxpayer costs,” said Senator Collins. Her measure would create a Chief Conservation Officer within each federal agency. The officers, appointed from the ranks of career Senior Executives, would provide aggressive and targeted leadership in this effort.

“Over the past several decades, achieving energy efficiency within the federal government has been the goal of more than a dozen laws, regulations, and Executive Orders,” she said. “Despite those efforts, agencies have been inconsistent and sporadic in meeting their environmental goals.

“Under this measure, the Chief Conservation Officer within each agency would be responsible for implementing energy efficiency and sustainability policies. Dedicating a senior-level career official to energy efficiency policy would improve the government’s focus on implementation of existing laws and policies, enhance innovation, and help identify future initiatives.”

Additionally, the bill would make several improvements in government procurement policies, allowing state and local government to purchase “green” commodities and services from the General Services Administration Schedule. This procurement authority would help state and local governments reduce the administrative costs of negotiating their own contracts and would increase competition and lower costs. Federal agencies should also reap the benefits of this program as more goods and services become available at reduced costs. Participation in the program would be voluntary for state and local governments, as well as vendors.

Environmental groups, including Environment Northeast, or ENE, out of Rockport, Maine, and the Environmental Defense Fund, have endorsed the legislation. The Coalition for Government Procurement and the Professional Services Council have also endorsed the measure.