An ideological rift has opened up among Democrats over the party’s key environmental overhaul, with the far left demanding that any “legislative solution” to climate change exclude natural gas and nuclear energy.
The battle is shaping up just as Democrats have begun working on the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act, which is being pitched as the backbone of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
Tucked away inside the bill’s 981 pages is a formula for remaking the U.S. economy and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — a goal the president committed to when reentering the Paris Climate Accord. Central to that commitment is the bill’s mandate that the U.S. reach a 100% carbon-free electricity standard by 2035.
Liberals, though, are pushing back on exactly how that standard should be met.
More than 300 left-leaning environmental groups are urging lawmakers to ignore “false energy solutions,” including those that rely on some form of fossil fuel. As part of that effort, the groups are opposing the CLEAN Future Act, saying it allows “dirty energy to be bundled with clean energy.”
“The CLEAN Future Act is a prime example of the type of half-measure we must avoid,” the groups wrote in a letter last week. “The [clean electricity standard] in the newly proposed bill is defined broadly enough to allow ‘natural’ gas (fossil gas), biomass and nuclear power to qualify.”
“These false solutions are not clean energy and undermine efforts both to reduce emissions and protect communities from pollution,” the groups added.
The letter is the clearest indication yet that Democrats are not as united on the topic of combatting climate change as many on the left would hope.
Moderates, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have argued for an “all of the above” approach to clean energy.
Similarly, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are pitching their own counterweight to the CLEAN Future Act that would expand the use of natural gas and nuclear power.
GOP lawmakers, in particular, point out that nuclear energy is one of the most stable and carbon-free alternatives to oil and coal. Data from the Nuclear Energy Institute indicates that 55% of all carbon-free electricity produced in the U.S. comes from nuclear power plants.
Steve Milloy, a member of former President Donald Trump’s transition team, told The Washington Times a clean electricity standard by 2035 will be difficult enough, without the country being forced to rely solely on “variable” and “intermittent” sources.
“No electricity grid can be 100% wind and solar because it would fail on day one,” Mr. Milloy said. “You must have reliable … power sources, like coal, gas and nuclear, that can be ramped up and down, not only to supply power but to maintain grid integrity itself.”
Progressives, however, are not sold. Many appear ready to strike out on their own if their demands are not met with the CLEAN Future Act.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, signaled last week that she would prepare the Green New Deal for reintroduction.