US Senate Begins Considering Sweeping Energy Measure
By Alex Thomas
March 5, 2020 - The full U.S. Senate has begun consideration of a legislative package that would boost investment in energy technologies while aiming to reduce carbon emissions.
Senators voted Monday to move forward with the American Energy Innovation Act, which includes provisions promoting development through funding research, grants and programs.
The measure would also set aside resources for researching renewable electricity technology, promoting cybersecurity and studying a possible natural gas storage facility in Appalachia.
Leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee introduced the measure last Thursday. The committee’s ranking Democrat, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, said the legislation consists of 53 smaller bills.
“For the first time in 13 years, we have an energy package, an energy policy for our country. First time we’re able to get something done. If you put it in context of the timeframe we’re dealing with, 12 or 13 years ago, the iPhone just came out,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday.
The committee’s leading argument for the bill is reducing carbon emissions. The body notes 90% of emissions come from electricity generation, transportation, industry and buildings.
“Everyone thinks that power generation — which is our coal-fired power plants or plants that have been converted from coal to gas — that all of our greenhouse gases are from power generation,” Manchin said.
The committee notes 27.5% of carbon emissions stem from electricity generation.
The package includes multiple provisions for upgrading buildings and improving electricity efficiency, as well as researching wind and solar electricity, how to encourage hydroelectric power and utilizing geothermal sources.
Manchin stressed while renewable energy should have an important role in the United States’ energy portfolio, he does not want to give up on fossil fuels. The measure would support efforts to capture carbon dioxide from coal- and natural gas-fired electricity facilities and fund research on collecting elements from coal and acid mine drainage sites.
One of the bills that is part of the package is the Appalachian Energy for National Security Act, which Manchin introduced in July. The measure would request the federal government study the benefits of a natural gas storage facility in Appalachia, noting the Marcellus, Utica, and Rogersville Shale plays located from northern Tennessee to New York.
“This is a great piece of legislation,” Manchin said of the full proposal. “It’s a tremendous road map for all of us to reduce our carbon footprint.”
The department’s evaluation of such site would focus on the economic and national security advantages.
Manchin expressed confidence the Senate would pass the measure. He noted legislators are discussing a possible amendment establishing voluntary building codes that would provide local municipalities an outline for establishing localized guidelines.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke in support of the American Energy Innovation Act on Tuesday.
“The legislation we’re considering this week is designed to build on these successes. It takes proactive steps to ensure the security, efficiency, and affordability of American energy for years to come,” he said.
McConnell also noted the bill’s supporters, including the National Mining Association — which represents various mining companies and coal groups — and the Environmental Defense Fund.
“At a time of increasing polarization in Washington, bipartisan leadership on climate is all the more crucial, and we applaud the Senators for their initiative on this effort to support clean energy innovation,” said Elizabeth Gore, the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior vice president for political affairs.
The Sierra Club opposes the package; legislative director Melinda Pierce said lawmakers should do more to move the United States away from using fossil fuels.
“Innovation and R&D of course have a role, but what is urgently needed right now goes beyond research that will have payoffs far down the road. We need action on deploying the proven clean energy technologies that are reducing emissions today,” Pierce said.
“The most direct way to do that would be advancing clean energy tax incentives for technologies including solar, on and off-shore wind, energy storage, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday said Democrats want amendments addressing climate change, calling it “the most pressing issue facing our planet.”
“Few pieces of legislation offer more opportunity for progress on climate than those that concern our energy policy. We cannot miss this opportunity to make real substantive progress on climate change, and I am hopeful that our amendments this week, that the potential progress we can make on climate change this week can be bipartisan,” he said.
Manchin urged opponents of the legislation to consider the committee is trying to balance multiple factors.
“Any improvement is going to be a tremendous gain for all of us,” he said.
Senators will discuss amendments this week. Manchin said he is hopeful a final bill will be ready next week.