- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 7, 2021

About 80 of corporate America’s biggest names, including Apple and General Motors, are pushing lawmakers to mandate that all electricity produced and consumed in the U.S. is carbon-free by 2035.

In a letter to Congress, the companies argued that phasing out fossil fuels from the electric grid in favor of solar and wind is necessary to combat climate change.

“As business leaders, we care deeply about the future of the U.S. and the health of its people and economy,” the companies wrote. “Passage of a federal clean electricity standard will drive large amounts of new renewable generation and do so in a way that provides businesses with a clear path and expectations to make needed investments at the scale and speed necessary.”

They proposed that the federal government dictate at least 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030, before hitting the 100% goal in 2035.

Tesla, PayPal, Google, eBay, Gap Inc., Etsy and NortonLifeLock also signed on to the letter.

“A clean electric power grid is an essential component of America’s transformation to cleaner energy throughout the economy,” wrote the companies.

The endorsement from corporate America comes as President Biden prepares a concerted effort to secure congressional approval for the policy. Mr. Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, last week said the White House would press for the inclusion of a carbon-free electricity standard in the infrastructure debate.

“We have to be bold,” said Mrs. McCarthy. “If we take a narrow view of this, then we will not be able to look our grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to keep America strong.”

Most Democratic lawmakers support the green overhaul of the electric grid, which currently accounts for a quarter of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

It is unclear, though, if Democrats in the narrowly divided Congress have enough votes to secure passage of the mandate.

Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the idea.

“I am concerned [this proposal] is going to take us backward to a time before reliable electricity and modern conveniences,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, recently said of the 100% carbon-free electricity standard.

Critics also warn that phasing out fossil fuels from the power sector would destabilize the electrical grid and lead to rolling blackouts.

Those predictions have come to pass in the Pacific Northwest.

As temperatures rose to above 110 degrees Fahrenheit last week, communities across the region saw electrical utilities impose mandatory power outages because of their inability to meet demand. The problem stemmed from state and local regulations mandating that utility companies jettison fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas, in favor of solar and wind power.

Washington state was hit hardest because of its 2019 law requiring all utilities to phase out coal by 2025.

“We’re no strangers to extreme weather in the Pacific Northwest,” Mrs. McMorris Rodgers said. “These weather events have solidified the importance of reliable power.”

Overall, the reality of the U.S. dependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation is heavily understated. Recent surveys indicate that nearly 80% of all U.S. electricity comes from either fossil fuels or nuclear power. Meanwhile, less than 19% comes from renewable energy sources.

It is highly unlikely Mr. Biden’s clean electricity standard can garner the 10 GOP votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the evenly split Senate.

Without bipartisan support, the only possible alternative for the proposal to become law is via budget reconciliation. The process allows spending bills to pass the Senate by a simple majority of 51 votes.

It remains to be seen whether electricity mandates can be part of the reconciliation process. In the past, even some spending-related topics such as raising the national minimum wage were ruled inadmissible for reconciliation under Senate rules.

If the policy were somehow germane to reconciliation, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia would still be an obstacle.

Mr. Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a key Democratic swing vote, is unlikely to back a clean electricity standard because of the impact it would have on the economy of his home state.

West Virginia has an abundance of both coal and natural gas, two sources that generate nearly two-thirds of all electricity consumed across the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.

Mr. Manchin’s office did not return requests for comment on this story.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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