Bingaman launches uphill battle with 'clean' power proposal

The legislation has eight co-sponsors, all Democrats. And several renewable energy groups — including the American Wind Energy Association and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions — endorsed the bill Thursday morning during an event on Capitol Hill.

Though a handful of GOP lawmakers have supported previous versions of the standard, Bingaman introduced the bill without Republican support. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the top Republican on Bingaman’s committee, has said she will only get behind such a standard if it replaces federal climate regulations.

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Bingaman acknowledged Thursday that the bill faces major opposition, including from Republicans, who say the standard is akin to “picking winners and losers.”

“Getting substantive legislation through both houses of Congress to the president’s signature is very difficult in this Congress,” Bingaman said.

Bingaman said he has requested an updated analysis of the bill from the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s statistical arm, and hopes to hold a hearing with administration and utility industry officials in the coming weeks.

“Then we’ll see if there’s enough support to go ahead and report the bill to the Senate floor,” Bingaman said. “I don’t know if there will be.”

President Obama has twice called on Congress to pass a clean energy standard, in his 2011 and 2012 State of the Union addresses. Bingaman’s bill echoes the president's proposal.

The White House applauded the bill Thursday.

“Chairman Bingaman's Clean Energy Standard legislation is an important step toward the president’s goal of doubling clean energy by 2035," White House spokesman Clark Steven said in a statement.

"As the president has said consistently, a CES will drive innovation and investment in a range of clean energy sources — including renewables like wind and solar as well as nuclear, efficient natural gas and clean coal. A CES will also help America remain a leader in the clean energy economy, with all the jobs that it will bring. We look forward to working with Congress as the bill moves forward.”

Utilities can meet the standards outlined in the bill by producing electricity from renewable, nuclear energy, natural gas (which receives half-credit under the bill) and coal with carbon capture and sequestration.

“The generation fleet will transition naturally toward cleaner sources to meet the standard,” Bingaman said.

Opponents of the clean energy standard have argued that policy would raise electricity prices, but Bingaman said an EIA analysis indicates that the proposal will have little effect on prices during the first decade of the program.

Bingaman added that the standard will have “zero impact” on gross domestic product and will have no cost to the government.

“The clean energy standard will not hurt the economy,” he said.