Senate to Take Up Bill Boosting Climate R&D, Avoid Mandates

Source: By Ari Natter, Bloomberg • Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2020

Legislation that could get a U.S. Senate vote as soon as next week aims to boost energy storage technology as well as nuclear and renewable power — but avoids more aggressive steps to fight climate change sought by Democrats.

The bill, unveiled Thursday by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, represents the latest Republican approach of promoting clean energy while steering clear of mandates to cut emissions of climate-warming gases or stop fossil fuel development on public lands.

The bill is needed “to make a down payment on emissions-reducing technologies,” West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. He partnered with Alaska’s Murkowski on the measure, which they said would be on the Senate floor next week.

The bill seeks to spur carbon capture, grid modernization and security and also includes a measure championed by Susan Collins of Maine, considered one of the most endangered Senate Republicans, that would fund an Energy Department research program to reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage. The technology could transform the wind and solar industries by allowing, for example, solar power made during the day to be used at night.

The legislation also features a long-stalled measure by Ohio Republican Rob Portman that would increase energy efficiency in residential and federal buildings and a separate measure aimed at helping the development of new nuclear reactor technology.

The legislation comes as Republicans begin to offer solutions to combat climate change that align with conservative principles of less regulation and increased domestic energy development, under pressure from voters to do something about global warming. House Republicans earlier this month released a climate bill focused on planting trees and carbon capture that drew criticism from both the left and right.

‘Emerging Technologies’

Murkowski, who has acknowledged that her state will be vulnerable to the effects of climate change, went so far as to back a moderate cap-and-trade bill in 2007 but later disavowed the idea. A committee aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while Murkowski’s bill addresses climate it isn’t necessarily a climate bill.

“We can promote a range of emerging technologies that will help keep energy affordable even as it becomes cleaner and cleaner,” Murkowski said.

Still, her bill includes measures that are sure to spur criticism from environmentalists, such as expediting small amounts of liquefied natural gas exports and boosting the mining of minerals that are deemed “critical.”

“At a time when we need to rapidly transition away from dirty fossil fuels to 100% clean energy, this bill points us in the wrong direction,” the Sierra Club said in a statement that criticized the bill’s provision on “fracked” natural gas and mining. “Innovation and R&D of course have a role, but what is urgently needed right now goes beyond research that will have payoffs far down the road.”

The bill won praise from a number of Republican-aligned groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which called it “the most significant climate and energy legislation in well over a decade.”

(Updates with Murkowski comment in the eighth paragraph.)