House Democrats are brewing a hefty climate-change bill to satisfy an environmental wish-list that includes removing fossil fuels from the electric grid, cracking down on natural gas pipelines, and earmarking $500 million to install electric vehicle charging stations throughout the U.S.
President Biden and his Democrats trumpet the bill, known as the CLEAN Future Act, as a “jobs bill” and the backbone of his Build Back Better agenda.
“The CLEAN Future Act promises that we will not stand idly by as the rest of the world transitions to clean economies and our workers get left behind, and that we will not watch from the sidelines as the climate crisis wreaks havoc on Americans’ health and homes,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that is working on the bill.
The legislation is considered nothing short of revolutionary by both climate-change advocates and skeptics. Tucked into its 981 pages is a step-by-step formula to remake the U.S. economy and reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the same goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement from which former President Trump withdrew and that Mr. Biden rejoined in the first hours of his presidency.
The bill dictates the U.S. will have a 100% “clean” — carbon-free — electricity standard by 2035. To accelerate the transition, all retail electricity suppliers must reach at least 80% clean energy by 2030 and all-electric utilities must offer some form of solar power to customers.
The act grants the Environmental Protection Agency new powers to enforce compliance by retail electricity suppliers.
The bill encapsulates Mr. Biden’s agenda on climate change, which he has made a top priority of his administration in both foreign and domestic policy. U.S. special envoy for climate John Kerry described the urgency of the agenda Tuesday when meeting with European Union officials in Brussels to coordinate the global effort.
“We face an extraordinary crisis, because the science is screaming at us, the evidence grows by the year,” said Mr. Kerry, a former secretary of state. “Last year again, hottest year in history … So this is a crisis, the climate crisis. But it’s also a moment of the greatest opportunity that we’ve had since perhaps the Industrial Revolution.”
Critics say the CLEAN Future Act’s goal of 100% carbon-free by 2035 is impossible to attain, and the attempt will inflict severe economic pain on Americans.
“Wind power and solar won’t be enough,” said Steve Milloy, director of the Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based libertarian think tank.
“It would be one thing if there was some new technology that would make the transition easy, but there is not at the moment,” Mr. Milloy said. “How are we going to replace all the nuclear plants, the natural gas facilities, and the coal mines we have with an alternative that will work just as well.”
Other parts of the CLEAN Future Act include:
⦁ Building codes with new energy-efficiency targets intended to make all new construction “zero energy ready” by 2030. To help meet the goal, the bill includes $8 billion in rebates for homeowners who choose to retrofit their properties.
⦁ Allows the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve carbon pricing requirements when setting electricity rates, although this is technically not a “carbon tax.” It also requires that FERC take into account the climate impact of natural gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas projects under its review.
⦁ Makes $500 million in taxpayer funding available to deploy electric-vehicle charging equipment across the country. It also creates a new program within the Energy Department to expand electric vehicle charging stations in underserved communities.
⦁ Provides $2.5 billion in taxpayer funds to accelerate the transition of school buses to electric vehicles and creates a $100 billion clean energy investment fund for new technology and infrastructure programs.
⦁ Establishes a new assistant secretary position within the Department of Energy focused on manufacturing and industrial decarbonization. The position will be responsible for pursuing projects that create carbon-free manufacturing jobs.
⦁ Creates a government-wide “Buy Clean” procurement to reduce emissions from materials and products used in federally funded projects.
⦁ Requires the federal government to increase the percentage of electric vehicles used by agencies and departments, with plans to eventually transition over the entire fleet.
⦁ Mandates that 40% of all federal funds provided in the bill go to “environmental justice communities” or communities of color disproportionately impacted by climate change. It also requires “environmental justice training” for employees at federal agencies.
⦁ Requires that the EPA impose new regulations to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sectors by at least 65% by 2025 and 90% by 2030. It likely would heavily affect the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract natural gas from shale formations.
⦁ Mandates that the Securities and Exchange Commission require public companies to disclose their exposure to “climate-related risks,” including any “direct or indirect” greenhouse gas emissions.
The legislation faces a long and difficult path to reach Mr. Biden’s desk, including surviving the narrowly divided Senate where Democrats would need at least 10 Republican votes to advance the bill.
The CLEAN Future Act is meant to serve as a starting framework, said Myron Ebell, the director of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment.
“Since Democrats are eager to make climate change a ‘whole of government’ approach, pieces of the bill could easily get lumped together with an infrastructure package where it will be much more sellable,” he said.
Still, it is unlikely Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats are interested in meeting Republicans half-way on the climate change issue.
Rep. David McKinley, a Republican from the coal state of West Virginia, said there is “broad consensus” in both parties that something needs to be done about climate change, but the two sides don’t agree on what needs to be done.
“Most Republicans agree that focusing on innovation to move forward on carbon capture, advanced nuclear and other clean energy technologies is necessary,” said Mr. McKinley, the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on climate change.
“However, we believe that the progressive climate agenda goes too far, too fast, and will hurt workers and consumers while undercutting our economic and national security,” he said.