Aide: Committee heads at impasse on 'clean energy standard'

A top aide to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Thursday that Murkowski and Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) have a "bedrock" disagreement over President Obama's proposal to mandate a major expansion of low-carbon power generation.

Obama is pushing a "clean energy standard" (CES) that would require power companies to jointly supply 80 percent of U.S. electricity from "clean" sources like nuclear, renewables and natural gas by 2035.

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But McKie Campbell, Murkowski's staff director, said Thursday that Bingaman and Murkowski are at odds over Murkowski's view that a CES should replace federal greenhouse gas regulations, and said he does not see a path forward.

"I think we are at a point of some fundamental disagreements," he said at a panel discussion hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

"Probably the most bedrock disagreement is that we believe if there was a CES, that that needs to serve as the main tool for reduction of greenhouse gases; he [Bingaman] believes that in addition you still need to continue with EPA's endangerment finding and regulation," Campbell said.

Campbell added: "He may introduce something on his own. I don't see any plausible political path forward."

He said that Bingaman and Murkowski met on Monday.

The apparent impasse highlights major political hurdles already facing the CES, which Obama proposed in his State of the Union speech early this year.

Many Republicans oppose new mandates on power companies, even though Obama administration officials have emphasized that it's a flexible proposal.

White House energy adviser Heather Zichal, speaking at the same event, said the CES has some bipartisan support, although she declined to speculate on its potential movement.

She touted the White House view that the policy does not "pick winners and losers" because it allows a range of technologies to qualify as "clean," and cited other attributes.

"People recognize that it has potential to bring capital off the sidelines and provide a long-term price on carbon," she said.

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