Energy legislation stalls in US Senate
Alaska's Murkowski leads fight for energy, technology bills Metal Tech News – March 18, 2020
Last updated 6/26/2020 at 12:29pm
The American Energy Innovations Act, legislation hailed as Congress' best chance to modernize the nation's energy policies in more than 12 years, bogged down in the U.S. Senate in early March after a dispute erupted among several lawmakers over an amendment aimed at limiting hydrofluorocarbons emissions from home appliances.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and ranking committee member Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., on Feb. 27, aims to ensure the United States remains a global energy leader, while also strengthening national security, increasing international competitiveness, and investing in clean energy technologies.
Murkowski said the 555-page package of bills would promote a range of emerging technologies that will help keep energy affordable even as it becomes cleaner and cleaner.
"Our bill also addresses national needs by taking overdue steps to enhance our cybersecurity, grid security, and mineral security. I'm proud of the bipartisan work we have done and encourage all members of the Senate to work with us to advance it through the legislative process," said Murkowski, who spearheaded a year of hearings, business meetings, and bipartisan negotiations that crafted the legislation.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held legislative hearings and business meetings throughout 2019 and, following regular order, reported more than 50 energy-related bills to the full Senate on an individual basis. Most of those measures have been compiled in the AEIA.
Manchin called the package of bills "a down payment on emissions-reducing technologies," and said it would "re-assert the United States' leadership role in global markets, enhance (the country's) grid security, and protect consumers.
"Importantly, this bill will connect energy-producing communities, including in states like West Virginia and Alaska, to new markets and job opportunities while laying the groundwork for the (U.S.) Department of Energy to advance new and necessary critical emissions-reducing technologies," Manchin said.
The AEIA contains hundreds of millions of funding for research and development into solar and wind power, energy storage, smart grid, electric vehicles, and other clean energy technology. Part of the bill includes $200 million per year for a series of Department of Energy programs aimed at "demonstrating how energy storage, microgrids and distributed energy resources such as EV chargers and behind-the-meter batteries can be integrated into today's power grids."
Innovation and security
The bill's key provisions focus on energy efficiency; renewable energy; energy storage; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; advanced nuclear; industrial and vehicle technologies; the U.S. Department of Energy; mineral security, cyber and grid security and modernization; and workforce development.
A summary of the legislation noted that the United States imports at least 50% of 46 minerals, including 100% of 17 of them.
"This is our Achilles' heel and an insidious threat to both our national security and international competitiveness," the lawmakers observed.
They also noted that America's critical infrastructure – including the electric grid – faces millions of ever-evolving cyberattacks each day.
"A successful attack could have devastating consequences, so AEIA provides new mechanisms and incentives to protect our cybersecurity and modernize the domestic grid," they wrote.
The legislation also addresses the needs of energy-related companies and national laboratories to ensure the nation develops the best and most highly skilled workers in the world.
Mixed reactions to bill
The AEIA, meanwhile had drawn both praise and criticism from national groups and analysts.
Some criticized the measure, saying most of the bill's components are narrow changes to existing policy or other government programs, and observed that it does not include an overall target to reduce emissions or any economy-wide mechanism to affect emissions, such as a carbon price or a mandate.
The National Mining Association and The Nature Conservancy both issued positive statements about the measure, though the latter said more needed to be done.
Some environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, opposed the legislation, noting that it "includes a number of small-bore proposals, some productive and some detrimental."
Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst for energy and environmental issues in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, called the package, "well intentioned" but a "bridge too far."
"But rather than improving private-sector access to federal assets, reducing regulatory barriers, and addressing the political risks that nuclear energy faces, it quite literally proposes that the government do the work of private companies for them-to improve their product, acquire financing, and find potential customers," Tubb wrote March 2.
The legislation will make "the nuclear industry politically dependent, and consequently politically vulnerable," without being effective, the analyst predicted.
The American Conservative Coalition, a group of conservative millennials formed in 2017 who believe that economic and environmental success can go hand in hand, said the AEIA has "many encouraging provisions," and noted that the 50-plus individual bills that form the legislation are sponsored by more than 60 senators who fall all across the political spectrum.
"Any steps taken to reduce emissions are positive, no matter how incremental. But the American Energy Innovation Act is not at all incremental; it instead offers a host of effective policies that will strengthen the environment and economy," the ACC noted.
Dispute over HFCs
Despite the widespread support in the Senate for its many provisions, the bill bogged down in early March over an amendment proposed by Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., that would phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs - highly potent greenhouse gases found in household appliances like refrigerators and air-conditioning units - though senators said there were other tripping points too, including a closed amendment process.
The amendment drew harsh criticism from Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who opposes the legislation as written, and the Wyoming senator said he wanted it to go through the Environment and Public Works Committee, which he chairs.
A spokesman for Barrasso said the senator opposes the amendment because it would implement the unratified Kigali treaty, an international treaty reached in 2016 to lower HFCs.
Ninety-three nations have agreed to Kigali, though the United States has not as the Trump administration has yet to submit it to the Senate for ratification.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, meanwhile, the Energy and Commerce Committee March 10 said it would mark up its own bill offered by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Pete Olson, R-Tex., to lower HFCs.
Kennedy also said he would object to dozens of amendments proposed for the energy bill if the Senate did not first vote on his HFC legislation.
The disagreement created an impasse that observers March 12 said effectively renders the AEIA dead in the water.
Murkowski, however, told reporters that the legislation is stalled, rather than dead.
She and Manchin unveiled in early March a list of 18 amendments to be folded into the broader package as senators in and outside of her committee reportedly groused about the lack of votes on dozens of other amendments.
Freshman Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told a reporter he would not necessarily vote against the energy bill due to the HFC language, but language in the bill that would mandate the overhaul of building codes remains a sticking point.