Exclusive: Congress reaches compromise on clean energy deal to be attached to government funding bill

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2020

House and Senate leaders have agreed to include a suite of clean energy innovation measures in a year-end omnibus spending bill to be introduced as soon as tomorrow.

A bipartisan energy package hitched to the spending bill, seen by the Washington Examiner, includes provisions to boost technologies such as advanced nuclear power, energy storage, carbon capture utilization, and direct air capture.

Three people with knowledge of the talks provided the final legislative language of the agreement to the Washington Examiner.

Supporters say the package would boost zero-carbon technologies that are only in the early stages of the development but considered important tools to address climate change. The language could be the best shot at passing legislation to make a dent in emissions in a divided Congress, argue supporters, which include Republican and Democratic-leaning environmental and business groups.

But the package is opposed by liberal environmental groups, which have urged Democratic leadership not to work with Republicans in favor of waiting until next year under a Biden administration, when the playing field could be more favorable to advance more aggressive climate policies.

Liberals are especially opposed to providing support for nuclear energy and carbon capture technologies for fossil fuel plants.

The package reconciles some of the key provisions from Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin’s sweeping bipartisan energy bill, the American Energy Innovation Act, and House Democrats’ similar Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act.

Murkowski and Manchin’s bill, considered the most comprehensive update to U.S. energy law in more than a decade, fell apart before the coronavirus pandemic because of a dispute over whether to allow a vote on a bipartisan amendment to limit chemical coolants called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used in air conditioners and refrigerators.

But Republicans and Democrats reached a deal on that issue in September, and the omnibus spending bill includes the compromise measure on HFCs.

The compromise measure would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate HFCs consistent with a global deal limiting the refrigerants, known as the Kigali Amendment. Meeting the agreement’s targets could avoid around half a degree Celsius of global warming, according to scientists’ estimates. HFCs account for a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere but are considered more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Other measures in the energy package would fund the demonstration of carbon capture projects attached to coal and natural gas plants and for industrial purposes.

Another would provide cash payments for direct air capture projects that swipe carbon directly from the atmosphere. There are provisions supporting smaller advanced forms of nuclear reactors, including one authorizing a program that aims to demonstrate two new nuclear designs in the next five years.

Another item would fund the research, development, and demonstration of long-duration energy storage systems that can hold excess wind and solar power for a longer period of time to be used when the wind is still and the sun is not shining.

The energy package would also boost renewables by requiring the government to set a goal of enabling at least 25 gigawatts of wind, solar, and geothermal deployment on federal lands by 2025.