BLOOMBERG: Largest in Decade Energy Innovation Plan Gets Into Spending Bill

Lawmakers plan to beef up innovation, research, and efficiency programs across the energy sector for the first time in more than a decade with a broad energy bill that will move through Congress along with the $1.4 trillion year-end spending package.

The energy bill would authorize $35 billion in appropriations for clean energy research and development over the next 5 years, including calling for greater investment in electric vehicles. It would also advance nuclear fuel availability and research; renewable energy and storage; grid modernization; carbon management and removal—including direct air capture and storage; as well as critical minerals.

Senate consideration of the legislation stalled in March, as disagreements derailed the measure just as the coronavirus pandemic forced much of the U.S. into lock down. After languishing for months, the effort was given new life in September when lawmakers resolved a major sticking point over a phasedown in the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are greenhouse gases found in refrigeration and air conditioning. That agreement paved the way for the measure to pass by the end of the year.

Lawmakers on Sunday announced a bipartisan deal on a combination $1.4 trillion spending bill and a $900 billion coronavirus relief measure (an amendment to H.R. 133). Text of the more than 5500-page spending and relief measure was released on Monday, and included many provisions of the Senate and House energy legislation (S. 2657 and H.R. 4447). The House and Senate plan to pass the measure on Monday, ahead of a midnight deadline to keep the federal government running.

The omnibus also contains the separate bipartisan deal to authorize a 15-year phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons. The language requires the EPA to implement a 85% phasedown of the production and consumption of HFCs.

The omnibus also includes the USE IT Act (S. 383 and H.R. 1166), which promotes carbon capture technologies, and a reauthorization of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

“All three of these measures will protect our air while keeping costs down for the American people,” Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement.

“These bills will help to improve air quality and tackle the climate crisis while creating thousands of new jobs and keeping our economy moving,” committee ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a statement

Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who helped shepherd the Senate energy bill for the last year with Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), said last week that 90% of their bill made it into the energy package in the omnibus.

“This is a tremendous piece of legislation,” Manchin said during an online discussion Dec. 16 on clean manufacturing with industry, labor, and environment groups.

Public Lands, Carbon Capture

The energy section of the omnibus includes language that would establish national goals for renewable energy production on federal lands by Sept. 1, 2022, directing the Interior secretary to issue permits authorizing production of at least 25 gigawatts of electricity from wind, solar, geothermal by no later than 2025.

Among other things, the legislation would establish a carbon capture technology program, create a carbon utilization research center and direct the Energy secretary to develop and assess technologies for the domestic extraction and recovery of rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts.

Lawmakers also rolled into the package a bill the House passed earlier this year that gives the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more pay flexibility to recruit and retain employees.

‘False Climate Solutions’

Reaction from many groups and lawmakers was positive.

“The Energy Act of 2020 will strengthen our nation’s grid while simultaneously decreasing our dependence on foreign supply chains and helping to rebuild an American manufacturing base,” said Heather Reams, executive director of the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Congressional Solar Caucus, praised the clean energy and solar provisions.

“These critical provisions will support a switch towards reducing emissions as well as support the 3.3 million Americans employed in the clean energy sector,” they said in a joint statement.

While many groups ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Nature Conservancy supported the energy innovation package, details of the final deal drew some criticism.

Progressive climate and clean energy groups objected to the language in the bill that supports “fossil fuels, offshore drilling, and nuclear energy” in addition to “false climate solutions like carbon capture and storage, biofuels and carbon pricing,” according to an earlier letter from more than 300 organizations to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Instead of promoting climate justice, advancing these provisions will further increase our dependence on dirty energy by propping up the very industries that are creating the climate crisis and devastating communities.”

Separately, Thomas Pyle, President of the American Energy Alliance, a free-market energy organization, called the package gift a Christmas gift for the renewable energy lobby. Pyle’s group also objected to a “sense of Congress” included in the package that called on the secretary of Energy to prioritize research funding for clean, renewable, or zero emission energy sources.

“This year’s winter windfall might be good for wind, solar, biofuels, and an already bloated federal energy bureaucracy, but it is bad for the rest of us,” Pyle said.