Energy & Environment

Democratic senator: Reconciliation package to include clean electricity standard

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) arrives to the Capitol for the first vote of the week on July 12
Greg Nash

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said Wednesday that a standard requiring a certain amount of electricity to come from clean sources will be included in the Democratic-backed infrastructure bill expected to be passed through reconciliation. 

The clean electricity standard “is the cornerstone of the progressive, practical transformation to a clean energy future we urgently need,” Smith tweeted.

In an interview with The Hill prior to her tweet, Smith, who is crafting the clean electricity standard legislation with Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), said she had expected the standard to be part of the legislation. 

The senator also told The Hill that while the details of the standard will have to be worked out in negotiations, she’s hoping to see a requirement for 80 percent clean electricity by 2030. 

“My goal is to get to 100 percent clean electricity as soon as possible. President Biden’s goal is to be doing it by 2035,” she said, referencing Senate rules that allow reconciliation bills to raise the deficit for no more than 10 years. 

“We need to set a strong and a bold goal,” Smith said, noting that she hopes to see incentives for achieving interim goals every year and also penalties if companies don’t achieve them. 

“The point is to add clean power every step of the way in order to get to our goal,” she said.

Democrats are taking a two-track approach on infrastructure. Their plan includes a smaller, bipartisan bill that can get enough Senate votes to overcome a filibuster and pass through regular order, and a larger package that’s presumed that can bypass the filibuster through the reconciliation budgetary process, which only requires a simple majority to pass. 

Democrats announced late Tuesday that they had settled on a $3.5 trillion price tag for the larger measure. 

“Every major program that President Biden has asked us for is funded in a robust way,” Schumer said. 

White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy has said that the clean electricity standard is among her priorities for the legislation. 

Smith said that she’s been in touch with moderates such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) in an attempt to drum up support for the clean electricity standard, as the ultimate bill will need the support of every Democrat if no Republicans defect. 

“I have had several conversations with Sen. Manchin and others in the moderate caucus including Sen. Warner, and I’m pushing as hard as I can to make sure that this gets the support amongst all of the Democratic caucus,” she said. 

Smith said she’d include power coming from wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric or nuclear — and fossil fuels only when they use carbon capture technology to prevent their emissions from going into the atmosphere. 

She said she opposes partial credit for unabated natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive than coal and oil, but still emits planet-warming gases.

“If you were to move from a higher-density of carbon pollution to a lower-density, I don’t think you should get partial credit, however, if you were installing carbon capture technology on a natural gas plant so that you were moving that natural gas plant to net-zero emissions, that would certainly get credit, as I see how we should do this,” Smith said. 

Smith also stressed the importance of the clean energy standard, calling it the “centerpiece of our strategy for addressing climate change.”

—Updated at 2:03 p.m.

Tags Carbon neutrality Chuck Schumer clean electricity standard Gina McCarthy Joe Biden Joe Manchin Mark Warner net zero net zero emissions Reconciliation Tina Smith
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