Hitting GOP, Senate Dems unveil plan for a 'clean energy future'

Greg Nash

Leading Senate Democrats unveiled their vision Tuesday for a comprehensive energy policy overhaul that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through new technology.

The legislative proposal, put together by Sen. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellUS wins aerospace subsidies trade case over the EU Wells CEO Stumpf resigns from Fed advisory panel Overnight Energy: Lawmakers kick off energy bill talks MORE (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, combines tax policy changes, emission reduction goals and research with smaller provisions, seeking to rapidly grow low- and zero-carbon energy in the United States.

ADVERTISEMENT
But the effort is just as much a response to Republicans, who Democrats say are still pushing a “drill, baby, drill” policy aimed at increasing the production and use of fossil fuels without concern for the environment.

Cantwell said the effort included input from 25 senators on three committees, and that the plan now has 28 co-sponsors.

“It is a technology-driven pathway to a clean energy future, and by tackling energy efficiency ranging from everywhere from trucks, buildings, to our electricity grid, to energy innovation, it basically takes the most important opportunities for reducing carbon, creating jobs, and moving us forward to help consumers have better choices,” Cantwell said Tuesday at a news conference in the Capitol.

“It is an actionable path that we think can get implemented. We are making important investments in science and clean energy technology so that the U.S. can lead in clean energy,” she said.

Cantwell estimated that the legislation, dubbed the American Energy Innovation Act of 2015, would create 3.5 million jobs, a figure that elicited an audible “ooh” from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The Democrats focused heavily in their presentation on incentives and funding to develop clean energy, along with an overhaul to energy provisions in the tax code that they say favors fossil fuels at the expense of renewables.

“Our proposal today throws an outdated, stagnant set of tax rules in the garbage can,” said Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Overnight Regulation: Supporters push for TV box reforms ahead of vote MORE (D-Ore.), ranking Democrat in the Finance Committee.

“The tax code now plays an enormous role in our energy policy. The system on the tax books is a crazy quilt of laws tethered to yesteryear, and it is suffocating innovation. In our view, it is long past time to replace this broken mess with a market-oriented system that supports American innovators with fresh, creative ideas.”

The tax provisions barrow from a proposal then-Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) released in 2013 to cut back on tax breaks that benefit oil and natural gas companies. The proposal expands on Baucus’s ideas to streamline credits for low-emission and transportation technologies, and adds energy efficiency incentives.

The bill would also set a nonbinding target of reducing the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions 2 percent per year over the next decade.

Democrats said it’s a major departure from Republican energy policies.

“They’ve invested heavily in coal, in tar sands and in oil, and they don’t want anything changed. They protect these permanent oil subsidies and reject temporary tax incentives for renewable energy,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidMcConnell blames dysfunction on Dems Reid sums up 114th Congress as 'a flop' Reid: GOP treated Obama with 'unprecedented disrespect' MORE (D-Nev.).

“Our energy bill presents a different vision for the future.”

The legislation includes a top pet project of Reid’s, to crack down on electric utilities charging too much to residential customers who want to use solar panels and sell electricity back to the grid.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) contrasted the Democrats’ bill with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) legislation on offshore drilling and oil exports, which passed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee along party lines in August.

“It opens up drilling all the way from the coast of Massachusetts down through Florida. Opens up California for drilling for oil,” Markey said.

“It does not extend the tax breaks for wind and solar. It is not all of the above, it is oil above all. It’s the same old agenda, which they have had for their entire lives. That is what this debate is about.”

He continued, “And they want to lift the ban on the export of oil from America.”

The Democrats said they hope to get some provisions from the bill into the Energy Committee’s wide-ranging energy reform bill. So far, Cantwell and Murkowski have only put provisions into it with bipartisan support.

Environmental groups praised the Democrats’ proposals.

“If Congress is interested in a responsible energy plan for American families that cuts carbon pollution, invests in the booming clean energy economy, and finally tackles the challenge posed by global climate disruption, they should start with this bill,” Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director, said in a statement.

“This legislation offers a bold, ambitious vision for growing our clean energy economy and tackling the climate crisis.”

Elizabeth Thompson, president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s EDF Action, also welcomed it.

“This bill would tap America’s abundant clean energy potential to significantly reduce climate pollution while saving people money,” she said.

But Ben Schreiber, climate and energy program director for Friends of the Earth, said the bill does not go far enough toward a transition to clean energy and fighting climate change.

“Unfortunately, the time has passed for half-measures,” he said. “Extending subsidies for renewables and ending Big Oil giveaways are important steps, but we cannot afford to throw our tax dollars after false solutions.”