The groups argue that the mandate is essential to prevent further drops in renewable manufacturing as investment in China has accelerated.
“There’s no secret that we would wish for a stronger RES,” said Marchant Wentworth, deputy legislative director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. But these groups believe “strong bipartisan support is available … and we’re urging them to take it up,” he said.
“It is a no-brainer,” said Don Furman, a vice president at Iberdrola Renewables.
Serious obstacles and uncertainty stand in the way of its passage — or even debate — in the full Senate this election year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated that an energy debate — including on an RES — will have to wait until a post-election lame-duck session at the earliest. But that session may be particularly brief and uneventful, especially if Republicans take control of either the House or Senate.
But supporters of the RES say it is an idea that could be well touted on the campaign stump.
“Politically we think this is a winner for candidates who can go out there saying we can create jobs,” said Tom Conway, international vice president for the United Steelworkers.
Four Senate Republicans — Sam Brownback (Kan.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — have voted for the panel's mandate or a similar mandate. Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted for the mandate as part of the larger energy bill in which it was included, but may not support it if the mandate comes up as a stand-alone item. “I can’t say she would support it,” her spokesman said.
There is also the question of whether Democrats like Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) would be supportive.
Furman said there are more than just two Republicans on board, though he and Wentworth —who participated in a conference call with Conway — declined to specify.
“We’re not in the habit of specifying whip counts in the press,” Wentworth said. “But we believe there is strong, strong indication that support continues to be there.”
The mandate is not popular in all circles, however, particularly among southeastern lawmakers who argue their region is not equipped to meet a mandate. There are also Republicans seeking all-nuclear production to be included in the mandate, as well as coal with carbon capture and sequestration and hydropower. The panel’s mandate allows 4 percent to come from efficiency measures, including those at existing nuclear plants.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) placed some doubt that a mandate could get through this year. “That’s going to be very difficult,” he said. “That’s a longer legislative initiative.”