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The climate opportunity hiding in plain sight

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There is no question that President Biden’s climate agenda is ambitious and comprehensive. As he prepares for his first address to Congress next week — in which he is sure to further detail his climate initiatives and budget priorities — we believe there is an important but underappreciated opportunity for him that is hiding in plain sight. 

This opportunity stems from passage of the Energy Act of 2020, a significant but low-profile new law included in the 5,593 page omnibus appropriations legislation passed by Congress at the end of December. The legislation was masterfully negotiated by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and a bevy of bipartisan colleagues in both the House and Senate to integrate more than 60 different bills that together authorize more than $35 billion in research and development funding for emissions-reducing technologies.

Along with a bipartisan agreement to phase down the use of HFCs — a major source of emissions — passage of this bill marks some of the most significant progress Congress has made on energy and climate issues in decades. That’s why it was one of the Chamber’s highest policy priorities, and we were pleased to play a role in its enactment.

The Energy Act creates dozens of opportunities for the Biden administration to invest in and advance programs and technologies that will be necessary to address the climate challenge — and now that they’ve been authorized, they need to be funded. We urge the president to request full funding in his forthcoming budget to implement the many programs and initiatives in the new law. Here’s why we believe it is so important.

President Biden’s climate plan is likely to be anchored by commitments to eliminate power sector and economy-wide emissions by 2035 and 2050, respectively. A multitude of similar targets exist at the state, local, and international levels, as well as from a growing number of businesses. What is not well appreciated, however, is that these ambitious energy transition goals are highly dependent on technologies that simply don’t exist commercially today. In order to effectively address the global climate challenge, there is broad recognition that the development, commercialization, and deployment of new technology will be the primary factor that determines how quickly and at what cost greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. As such, the ultimate attainment of these goals could hinge on the success of policies and programs borne from the Energy Act of 2020.

The Energy Act gives Congress and the administration a chance to lay the foundation necessary to both reduce emissions in the United States and produce the technologies needed around the world, where future emissions growth from developing nations is expected to be larger than all current economywide carbon emissions from the United States. The activities supported by the bill are too long to list in their entirety (see summaries here and here), but include the following areas: energy storage; advanced nuclear; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; renewable energy; critical minerals and materials; fusion; industrial technologies; smart manufacturing; grid modernization; and energy efficiency.

That’s exactly the “kitchen sink” approach to climate technology solutions we need, and the prospect of securing funding for these activities presents a rare opportunity for meaningful, bipartisan progress on a contentious issue. It’s also an opportunity to advance America’s long-term economic competitiveness, by laying the technological foundation for U.S. businesses to export climate change solutions to the rest of the world. For these reasons, we stand ready to partner with the Biden administration and ensure Congress helps make these exciting opportunities a reality.

Of course, more will need to be done to meet the climate challenge, but the story of this hard fought but unheralded legislation proves there is common ground on which all sides of the debate can come together to address climate change, promote American technology leadership, and foster continued economic growth. Just as notably, success of the Energy Act of 2020 was the result of Congress flexing muscles it hasn’t used in a long time, demonstrating that “regular order” can produce significant progress. This Energy Act and the HFC phasedown bill offer a bipartisan model that can be replicated by Congress and the new administration to pass additional climate policies that will attract broad support from the business community, environmental stakeholders, and others.

Inevitably, as the many climate commitments of governments and businesses here and around the world come due over the next decade and beyond, we will take stock of progress made. When we do, there is a good chance we’ll find that the energy economy of tomorrow will trace its roots to the programs and research authorized in the Energy Act of 2020 — if Congress and the president follow through by committing the resources necessary to fund them.

Marty Durbin is Senior Vice President, Policy and President of the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tags Climate change Climate change mitigation Climate change policy Energy Act of 2020 Joe Biden Joe Manchin Lisa Murkowski

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