POLITICS

Things to watch in Democrats' big climate bill

Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats yesterday rolled out an enhanced version of their climate bill, an ambitious effort to overhaul the power sector and decarbonize the economy.

At the center of the new "CLEAN Future Act" is a clean electricity standard that would shoot for 80% clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2035.

It's paired with more than $500 billion in spending authorizations and a wide range of environmental justice, transmission and environmental cleanup provisions.

The bill reflects a significant effort by House Democrats to line up with the Biden administration on climate policy and marks a first step toward addressing the issue on Capitol Hill (E&E News PM, March 2).

"The bill marks the first introduction of a major comprehensive piece of climate legislation in over a decade, and it's exactly the kind of federal leadership that I think the moment demands," Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) told reporters yesterday.

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Democrats have made substantial updates to the legislation since they first offered a draft version last year to mixed reviews from industry and environmental groups.

Here are policy areas and political machinations to watch as lawmakers attempt to advance the bill:

Looking to the White House

The bill, in many ways, is an attempt to put legislative language to some of the climate promises President Biden made on the campaign trail.

The clean electricity standard, for instance, has been tweaked to achieve power-sector decarbonization by 2035, the target the Biden White House has called for.

The bill would also funnel 40% of its funding to environmental justice communities, codifying a goal laid out in Biden's executive order on climate and environmental justice in January.

On the flip side, Democrats removed a provision from last year's draft bill that would have required more stringent greenhouse gas emission standards for cars, with the Biden EPA widely expected to revise the Trump administration's fuel economy rollback.

"This is a crucial sign of momentum behind climate action in Congress and behind Biden's commitment to a 2035 clean electricity sector in particular," said Sam Ricketts, a senior policy adviser for Evergreen Action who worked with the committee on the bill.

"That said, the pathway forward on an investment agenda is still being sorted."

Big numbers

While the "CLEAN Future Act" doesn't come close to hitting the $2 trillion investment in climate policy Biden promised during his campaign, it would authorize $565 billion over 10 years.

That's significantly more than the draft version, which would have authorized roughly $316 billion in spending overall (E&E Daily, Feb. 26, 2020).

The new measure offers a grab bag of new grant and spending programs. They include funding for renewable energy and resilience projects at public facilities, an EPA grant program to decarbonize ports, $2.5 billion for EPA's clean school bus program to help put zero-emissions buses on the road, and a $500 million annual reauthorization for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

Environmental justice communities are a major focus. The bill would create a program to pay to remove lead service lines at no cost to homeowners.

It would also push EPA to clean up all Superfund sites that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change within the next decade.

Regular order

Democrats are hoping to move the bill through regular order, which would mean getting Republicans on board.

But they also didn't rule out moving parts of the bill through budget reconciliation — which allows certain legislation to bypass the Senate filibuster — or breaking it up to ride on an infrastructure or economic stimulus package.

"It's hard to say at this point what happens after it gets out of committee," Pallone said yesterday. "Obviously, we'd like to move it through regular order. I don't rule anything out, but I'm hoping that the Republicans will participate so we don't have to go through reconciliation."

In the near term, Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said they will hold hearings on the bill.

The legislation drew a notably neutral response yesterday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The nation's largest business lobby has historically been an opponent of climate policy but has softened its stance in recent years.

"The Chamber appreciates Chairmen Pallone, Tonko, Rush and other Energy and Commerce Committee members for commencing a legislative effort to combat climate change this Congress," U.S. Chamber Senior Vice President of Policy Marty Durbin said in a statement. "As lawmakers move forward, we urge them to focus their efforts on developing market-based mechanisms for reducing carbon emissions that are durable and can garner bipartisan support."

Transmission

Last year's draft climate bill included what amounted to a "fill in the blank" section dedicated to transmission that lawmakers would tackle in the future. This version fills in those details in greater clarity, with eight sections dedicated to transmission policies.

Transmission is increasingly seen as critical for additional deployment of clean energy and renewable energy on the grid, and right now, transmission bottlenecks could prevent a clean energy transition from kicking in full force, experts warn.

The Texas and California blackouts over the past year have also reinforced the need for additional grid investment to shore up transmission in a changing climate.

The Energy and Commerce proposal calls for enhanced federal power on transmission siting and directs increased focus by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on getting those wires built.

The bill would direct FERC to establish an Office of Transmission to oversee the agency's transmission siting and incentives work. Additionally, lawmakers would seek additional technical conferences from FERC about how to better oversee interregional transmission assets.

The legislation also clears FERC to "issue permits for construction or modification of certain interstate transmission facilities if a state commission denies an application seeking approval for the siting of such transmission facilities," according to a section-by-section summary of the bill.

Such permitting authorities for transmission siting would echo its pipeline approval authority.

Rounding its transmission focus, the bill also includes a $750 million spending authorization over 10 years for DOE to disperse technical assistance grants to state and local governments for help in evaluating, permitting and siting of interstate transmission lines.

Worker transition

Democrats have long portrayed climate action as an economic opportunity, and this bill continues that trend.

"Like President Biden, House Democrats see climate action as a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity, one that will also bring important health benefits and help us advance racial justice," Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said in a statement.

New to the debate is a policy focus on ways to help move communities and fossil fuel workers away from coal and oil and gas extraction to a clean energy economy.

The legislation would establish an Office of Energy and Economic Transition in the Executive Office of the President to lead efforts to provide workers and communities transition resources, like retraining grants and manufacturing incentives.

Clean energy manufacturing jobs have become a central focus for Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

But the Biden administration has come under fire from Republicans, who point to potential lost revenue in states that depend on fossil fuel royalties to pay for government services like health care and schools.

To address those needs, the bill would create a new grant program "to aid local government entities that have lost significant amounts of revenue due to the nation's transition to net-zero GHG emissions," the section-by-section summary said.

Eligible communities can "receive an annual payment for no more than eight years, equal to 90 percent of the lost local revenue in years one and two. That amount declines to 75 percent in years three and four, 50 percent in years five and six, and 25 percent in years seven and eight," the committee said.

'Zero waste'

The bill also goes well beyond the power sector and transportation policies typically attached to climate legislation. It includes multiple "zero waste" components, elevating issues around recycling and plastics.

Elements of prior bills like the "Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act" make an appearance in the legislation, including a "temporary pause" on new permits for plastics facilities.

Advocates said the bill also incorporates parts of the "Zero Waste Act," introduced in 2019 (E&E Daily, Feb. 2).

The new bill would establish an EPA grant program for community-level zero-waste initiatives along with a grant program for landfill diversion. That second grant pool would reward efforts that might, for example, boost landfill tipping fees or expand access to curbside composting collection as part of zero-waste initiatives.

Product standards and producer responsibility also factor heavily into the bill's waste section. It would establish post-consumer recycled content standards for beverage containers and possibly other products.

EPA would, meanwhile, develop guidelines around labeling for recyclables and compostables, with manufacturers similarly required to standardize labeling.

Other significant elements include a national container deposit system and the creation of a task force to study extended producer responsibility.

Twitter: @nick_sobczykEmail: nsobczyk@eenews.net

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