Biden clean electricity standard faces high hurdles
President Biden is doubling down on a campaign promise to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035 with his $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan.
The plan would achieve the carbon-free goal by setting a clean electricity standard, which would require power providers to get a certain amount of energy from clean sources.
The problem is now convincing skittish Democrats to back the effort.
No Republicans are expected to support the infrastructure proposal, which will also include a hike to the corporate tax rate.
And the carbon-free power sector provision is likely to have at least one Democratic critic in Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a crucial swing vote in the 50-50 Senate who has expressed skepticism about such a mandate.
“The market will take you there,” he told the Washington Examiner in January.
“I will look and see what they are doing. Anything we pass sure as heck should be feasible. Just setting an artificial date doesn’t always work. You have to have faith in American ingenuity,” Manchin added.
A spokesperson for Manchin didn’t respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the standard’s inclusion in Biden’s proposal.
It’s not clear whether the White House would simply mandate 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, or if it would prefer to set interim targets along the way.
Democratic lawmakers in the House are also pushing a clean electricity standard through their CLEAN Future Act bill, which would require power retailers to provide 80 percent of their electricity from clean sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035.
When it was introduced, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said “It’s time to try something new,” when asked why lawmakers opted for a clean electricity standard rather than other mechanisms such as putting a price on carbon emissions.
“There’s also a lot of environmental justice concerns for allowing companies to pay to continue polluting,” he said.
Other Democrats are pushing for carbon pricing, which raises the cost of energy burned from fossil fuels, giving renewable energy an edge in power markets.
Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.) reintroduced a bill aiming to set the price at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, which means emissions of greenhouse gases that are equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide. The price would increase by $10 each year.
A press release announcing the carbon pricing bill said that it would “help reduce U.S. carbon pollution by up to 45% by 2030.”
Ishan Nath, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, said that one advantage to carbon pricing is that it can be applied economywide and not just to the electricity sector.
“If there’s really low-cost ways of reducing emissions outside of the electricity sector, the carbon price could be incentivizing people to engage in those emissions reductions that a clean [electricity] standard might be missing,” Nath said.
White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy told reporters the standard backed by the administration would also include energy produced using carbon capture, in which the emissions from burning fossil fuels may be sequestered and prevented from going into the atmosphere.
But McCarthy has expressed openness to other methods, telling reporters, “If there are other ways of doing business, I’m sure the president is open to those discussions. But clearly, we think a [clean electricity standard] is appropriate and advisable, and we think the industry itself sees it as one of the most flexible and most effective tools.”
The plan also calls for additional actions to bolster clean electricity, including clean energy tax credits and block grants, as well as buying clean power for federal buildings.
The infrastructure proposal also include other measures aimed at combating climate change such as investing in electric vehicle production and building upgrades.
Advocates of the clean electricity standard argue that it’s an important tool to help the Biden administration reach its clean energy goals.
“It’s integral to meeting the vast carbon reductions we need to meet the demands of science and it’s been successfully proven in states,” said Jamal Raad, the executive director of Evergreen Action, a group of former Jay Inslee campaign staffers who advocate on energy policies.
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