With Carbon Cap in Doubt, Enviros Scramble to Strengthen Renewable Energy Standard

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Friday, July 16, 2010 at 6:00 am

Environmental groups are looking to strengthen the renewable energy standard in Sen. Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) energy bill. (Pete Marovich/ZUMApress.com)

With the fate of a scaled-back cap on greenhouse gas emissions uncertain, environmental groups are scrambling to find a way to maintain a bill that would still achieve substantial cuts in global warming pollution. Now they have refocused their attention on strengthening a renewable energy standard, which would require a percentage of the country’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

[Environment1] Environmental groups have participated in a series of meetings in recent weeks to press Senate staff to strengthen the renewable energy standard (RES) included in the energy bill passed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year. The RES in the bill would require that 15 percent of the country’s electricity come from renewable sources, a standard that most environmentalists think is far too weak.

Environmental advocates have long seen an RES as essential to jump-starting the renewable energy sector. While an RES would result in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalists say a comprehensive energy and climate bill, with a cap on carbon, is required to reduce emissions enough to stave off catastrophic climate change. “An RES was never intended to be a carbon reduction measure,” said Marchant Wentworth, deputy legislative director at the Union for Concerned Scientists. “Its intent was always to increase renewable energy [capacity].”

So as they advocate a stronger RES, environmental groups continue to push for a utility-sector cap on emissions, holding a series of meetings in recent days and weeks with representatives of key electric utilities. It remains to be seen whether environmental and utility groups can find middle ground on the proposal, a necessary step, sources on and off the Hill say, to ensure passage of such a provision. The utilities have pushed for an exemption from Environmental Protection Agency regulation in exchange for supporting a carbon cap on their companies — a compromise environmental groups are unlikely to accept. If a deal on a cap proves impossible, environmental groups see an RES as the next best thing.

Environmentalists are lobbying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to include an RES that would require 25 percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025 in the energy bill he is expected to bring to the floor the week of July 26. A coalition of environmental groups — including the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council — sent a letter to Reid Wednesday calling for a 10 percent RES by 2013 and a 25 percent RES by 2025.

“We commend the Energy & Natural Resources Committee for including a national renewable electricity standard in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act,” the letter says. “Unfortunately, the provision as drafted would fail to drive a significant expansion of renewable energy. Studies show that the amount of renewable energy development resulting from the renewable energy requirement in ACELA could be lower than expected growth in development as a result of existing state policies and federal incentives.”

If the Reid bill includes Bingman’s proposal, a number of lawmakers who have called for a stronger RES will likely seek to offer amendments to the bill. But some sources say that given the tight time frame before the August recess, Reid could restrict amendments to the legislation, leaving lawmakers with little time to strengthen an RES on the floor. Reid’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Wentworth, of the Union for Concerned Scientists, says Bingaman and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) are planning to offer an amendment on the floor that would raise the RES to 20 percent. While that’s below the target that UCS and other environmental groups are calling for, Marchant acknowledges that a 25 percent RES may not be able to get 60 votes in the Senate.

Bill Wicker, Bingaman’s spokesperson, said Thursday that the senator would like to see the RES “strengthened and improved” in the final version of the bill. Wicker added that he does not believe the energy bill being cobbled together by Reid, based on a number of energy and climate proposals, has been written yet.

Once that bill is made available, “then we’ll all then know what the RES figure is going to be,” Wicker said, adding that Bingaman would support the highest RES that can gain enough support for passage. Dorgan’s spokesperson, Barry Piatt, confirms that the senator is planning to offer an RES amendment.

And environmentalists are touting a proposal introduced last year by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that would implement a 25 percent RES. Udall’s spokesperson confirmed that the senator is trying to get the 25 percent RES included in Reid’s legislative package. With the potential for protracted floor debate on the bill, lawmakers are hoping to get a stronger RES in the bill before it hits the floor.

Meanwhile, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) introduced a bill this week that also includes a 25 percent RES. But environmentalists are hesitant to support the bill because it includes an extension of tax credits for ethanol and incentives for biofuels, though one environmentalist source acknowledges that such provisions could help gain Republican support for the proposal.

An aide in Klobuchar’s office says the goal is to include parts of the bill in the package Reid’s staff is writing or as an amendment on the floor. The aide says Klobuchar is meeting with a number of senators to try to build support for the legislation, but there are currently no other co-sponsors.

But Klobuchar and Johnson have the support of a number of powerful industry trade associations, including the American Wind Energy Association, the wind industry’s trade group, and the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents the ethanol industry. A source with Growth Energy, another ethanol trade group that has endorsed the proposal, says a utility-only bill is “the death knell; it’s not going to go anywhere.”

A stronger RES allows environmentalists to claim victory on a climate proposal. Democrats “want to be able to say to the environmental community, ‘We didn’t get everything, but we got something through,’” the ethanol industry source says. “They can come out at the end of the day and say it’s jobs, it’s some climate, but not the type of climate that will make the Republicans choke.” While environmentalists aren’t sold on the Klobuchar-Johnson bill, the ethanol industry source says that incentives for ethanol could win support from key Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Follow Andrew Restuccia on Twitter


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[...] With Carbon Cap in Doubt, Enviros Scramble to Strengthen Renewable Energy Standard “With the fate of a scaled-back cap on greenhouse gas emissions uncertain, environmental groups are scrambling to find a way to maintain a bill that would still achieve substantial cuts in global warming pollution. Now they have refocused their attention on strengthening a renewable energy standard, which would require a percentage of the country’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar.” [...]


ajm8127
Comment posted July 16, 2010 @ 11:26 am

I know what will happen. Dems will give up any caps, and they they will make compromise after compromise, while republicans will keep passage two or three votes short until they get a good watered down version of the bill that really accomplishes nothing. (just like major legislation of recent past – HCR and Fin Reg)

RES is great, but how would something like that be enforced?


mememine
Comment posted July 16, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

Climate change did to liberalism, journalism and science what Bush's Iraq War did to the neocons.
History is laughing at all of us for this mass insanity.
Climate scientists were the “alter boy abusing priests” of science and global warmers and climate changers were the new neocons of lying, fear mongering and leading us to war against a non existent enemy of climate variation.
When you believe in things you don't understand……
Not since ancient times has entire generations of children been warned that they don't have futures on a dying planet.
The UN had allowed carbon trading to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education. Nice job! How progressive.
The Freedom Party of Canada is the only party out there that has jumped off the glowbull dooming ship and I promise, the first mainstream party to do so will get a majority because we are tired of the political and cultural fear mongering.
Now, arrest Al Gore and Canada’s David Nutzuki, news editors, lazy copy and paste journalists, lazy teachers, PR execs, lab coat consultants and pandering politicians for this crime of modern day witch burning.
Preserve, protect and respect Nature, not save and rescue it from a false enemy with needless fear and panic.


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Comment posted July 18, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

Well, it appears your moniker says it all; all that matters is you, you and yours.

You offer no evidence or data to support your allegations. Rather you rant like a lunatic, which I suspect you are.

There are rational arguments that can be put forth to challenge the premise of Global Climate Change but you resort instead to unsubstantiated blanket statements. And just who is advocating 'witch burning', those concerned for the future livability of our planet, or the nut case calling for the arrest of anyone who dares disagree with you?


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Andy Olsen
Comment posted July 19, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

Uh, I do that acronym actually stands for Renewable ELECTRICITY Standard. (“Electricity” being but a subset of “energy”) Otherwise, thanks for covering this issue!

It's very important that we make as much progress as possible in transitioning to a low carbon energy economy. The longer we wait the more expensive it will be to adapt to the realities of global warming.


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