Manchin-led committee puts forth sprawling energy infrastructure proposal

A Senate committee that’s led by key swing vote Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed MORE (D-W.Va.) has released a 400-page energy infrastructure proposal that it will weigh later this week. 

The proposal, which is labeled a discussion draft, did not receive much fanfare on Friday, as it was quietly included as part of an advisory announcing a hearing on infrastructure needs by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Manchin, who chairs the panel, is a centrist whose support is considered crucial for the passage of an infrastructure package, and the new proposal could be an indication as to where his priorities lie. 

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The package aims to boost nuclear energy, hydrogen energy and carbon capture, which uses developing technology to capture emissions from activities such as burning fossil fuels. 

It also aims to increase the resilience of the electric grid from threats related to both natural disasters and cybersecurity.

And it seeks to up energy efficiency in both residential and commercial buildings as well as industry, manufacturing and schools. 

The committee will consider the draft in a hearing on Thursday. 

The draft proposal comes as senators work to move forward on infrastructure. The White House is proposing a nearly $2.3 trillion plan that invests in electric vehicles and building upgrades and seeks to establish a clean electricity standard. 

Meanwhile, a group of bipartisan lawmakers, including Manchin, has indicated that it will work on a separate proposal. 

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Democrats could work around Republican opposition if they use a process called reconciliation to pass an infrastructure measure, but doing so would require the votes of all 50 senators in the caucus, including moderates such as Manchin who may not be on the same page as progressives on energy and climate measures. 

The legislation aims to increase the use of carbon capture technology through loans as well as through grants for state and local governments and public utilities. 

It would help the nuclear power industry by allocating “credits” to nuclear reactors that are in danger of closing for economic reasons. 

It would also boost clean hydrogen by creating a research and development program and identifying regional “hubs” where such energy could play a big role in infrastructure. 

Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by dividing hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons and moving the electrons through an external circuit. This can be done using electricity from various sources, but it’s considered “clean” hydrogen when clean energy is used. 

Other forms of clean energy such as solar and geothermal are given a nod in the proposal, which would create a pilot program for starting such projects on former mine land. 

Included in the proposal are two bipartisan bills approved earlier this month by the House Energy and Commerce Committee intended to enhance the cybersecurity of critical energy resources. 

The Cyber Sense Act would require the Department of Energy, in coordination with other agencies, to establish a program to test the cybersecurity of products used in the bulk power system.

The Enhancing Grid Security Through Public-Private Partnerships Act would direct the Department of Energy to create a program encouraging partnership with the private sector to shore up both physical security and cybersecurity of the grid. 

The overall proposal also includes language establishing a grant program to help rural and municipal utilities protect against, and respond to, cyber threats, along with a clause to develop advanced cybersecurity products for the power grid. 

It would also seek to bolster electric grid resilience efforts to natural disasters through grants for operators and federal financial assistance to improve transmission, storage and reliability. 

Resilience efforts have been in the spotlight following this year's ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which led to fears of gasoline shortages, as well weather-related grid issues for Texas and other states. 

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The legislation would seek to increase building efficiency through grants to incentivize the creation of building codes by local governments or other entities. 

For industry, it would create grants for projects that increase energy efficiency, material efficiency, cybersecurity or productivity or reduce waste, greenhouse gas emissions or other types of pollution. 

It would also require states to consider measures to promote electrifying transportation.

And it seeks to boost mining of critical minerals, which are used in various industries, including batteries, solar and nuclear energy, and electronics by establishing timelines for permitting decisions on public lands.