When it was created last year, the Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) was barely noticed.
Today, EECBG is rolling into city halls as a green-certified Trojan Horse.
Authorized in Title V, subtitle E of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, EECBG was fully funded at $2.7 billion with the stimulus bill of 2009. It is intended to help local governments:
- Reduce fossil fuel emissions,
- Reduce total energy use,
- Improve energy efficiency in government buildings, and
- Create and retain jobs.
In practice, this means it was intended to fund installation energy efficient street lights, building code improvements, transportation programs, recycling, and so on.
Back in 1974, the Nixon administration decided to merge a bunch of urban aid grants. Experts agreed Urban Renewal and President Johnson’s Model Cities had failed in part because it was impossible to direct grants in DC to the local level, and getting out of the federal micromanagment was part of the “New Federalism.”
Block granting, it was hoped, would free cities from federal control allowing local government more flexibility with funds, as long as the projects fell into one of 72 possible activities and the grantee stuck to HUD’s general guidelines. The idea, in a nutshell, was federal money, local control.
But block granting isn’t a solution to centralized government; it only provides the illusion of local control. Grants-in-aid carry the policy priorities of the federal government. Local priorities are shaped by federal grants. Whether your community needs a park or not is another matter. You now have a grant to build one.
Such grants may stimulate greater local spending but to what’s known as the Flypaper Effect. Once the park is built, it will need local maintenance.
There is no such thing as “free” federal money. Grants comes with rules. Before a CDBG project is undertaken it may have to meet Davis-Bacon wage requirements, environmental reviews, and other regulatory tests.
Now back to EECBG, a second-generation experiment in block granting.
Loudoun County, Virginia is one of many communities to receive EECBG money. To spend its $2.215 million grant, the county must submit a plan to the Department of Energy (read it here). The plan begins by assuming passage of Cap and Trade (p. 11), and then lays out a familiar future. The plan is less an example of local experimentation as it is of federal policy cloning.
There will be an Energy Performance Labeling rating of homes, before sale or rental, to “give transparency to actual consumption of both new and existing structures.” Some Northern Virginia Realtors really don’t like this. There is also Smart Growth, and an Energy Environmental Trading Team to help implement Cap and Trade. There will be electric cars, mixed used housing, bike paths, more transit, less driving, and “parking strategies.”
The plan is no surprise, once it is understood that federal grants are carriers of federal policies that grow roots in state and local governments. But does the plan reflect the needs of Loudoun’s residents or the wants of Washington, DC?