Revived RES bills unlikely to gain traction anytime soon

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In the span of a couple of days last week, two similar renewable energy standard bills were introduced in the Senate, creating the impression of momentum behind a legislative proposal that had been largely left for dead at the federal level.

But that brief surge of activity is not expected to improve the effectively nonexistent chance of such a policy being signed into law anytime soon. Rather, the effort is aimed at keeping alive an idea that has garnered bipartisan support in the past while supporters look for opportunities to bolster their arguments that expanding renewable energy production can create jobs and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.

“At this point, this is very much putting as many good ideas on the table as we can in the hopes that energy is something that can be revived as a discussion point in the Senate,” said Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who introduced one of the RES bills.

It was a coincidence that the two bills — the other coming from Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — were released so close together, aides said. The Udalls, who are first cousins, had authored an RES amendment earlier this fall for a then-pending energy efficiency bill and decided to offer it as a stand-alone bill after the efficiency legislation stalled. And Markey, who co-authored the 2009 cap-and-trade bill in the House, was long planning to make an RES bill his first offering in the Senate, following his election to the upper chamber in a June special election.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation, has yet to schedule a hearing, and Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told reporters last week that he still needed to review the bills. A senior renewable industry lobbyist shared an impression that Wyden is not as committed to the RES concept as was his predecessor, former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who last year unsuccessfully pushed legislation to create a “clean energy standard” that also could have been met with natural gas or nuclear energy.

“We need to sell him on the concept a little bit more,” the lobbyist said of Wyden, after being granted anonymity to speak frankly.

A spokesman for the energy committee, Keith Chu, said in an email yesterday that Wyden “shares the goal of reducing America’s carbon footprint, boosting renewables and transitioning to a lower-carbon economy” and is looking forward to learning more about the bills and working with their sponsors “to take on climate change moving forward.”

With the House under Republican control, it is inconceivable that either bill would make it to the president’s desk, even if one or both passes the Senate. Supporters acknowledge this but say it is important to continue fighting for what they see as an admirable proposal while waiting for their prospects to improve.

In any legislative chess match, “you can’t win … unless you have pieces on the board,” said Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that supports the bills from Markey and the Udalls. “So they’re putting pieces on the board.”

Introduction of the bills — and the attention that has followed from environmentalists and clean energy proponents — also represents an effort to shift the energy policy conversation on Capitol Hill away from persistent efforts to weaken U.S. EPA rules or expand fossil fuel production, Matzner said.

“This puts a marker back out there that says, ‘Let’s do more,'” he said. “And I think it’s important to get that reminder out there.”

Both bills call for utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2025, although Markey’s includes additional efficiency mandates for electric and natural gas utilities (E&ENews PM, Oct. 31). Markey’s bill also includes stricter limits on the types of biomass that qualify as renewable.

The idea of mandating renewable energy generation has been a key component of proposals to combat climate change for years, and 29 states and the District of Columbia have implemented such laws within their borders. Versions of an RES were included in the 2009 cap-and-trade bill that passed the House with eight GOP votes that year and a narrower energy bill that won bipartisan backing from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that same year; neither bill became law.