Provisions for cleaner energy pushed for spending bill

The measures would boost nuclear power, carbon capture and energy efficiency, but Pelosi's support was uncertain

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and ranking member Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. are seen at a 2019 hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and ranking member Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. are seen at a 2019 hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 14, 2020 at 9:34pm

Lawmakers are coalescing around a bipartisan deal that would fold into the government funding bill a slate of energy provisions including measures on nuclear power, carbon capture, energy efficiency, renewables, grid modernization and the reduction of highly potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons.

Whether the draft legislation has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unclear Monday night after her deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted that the California Democrat worried the measure had inadequate protections under the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires workers on federal projects to be paid prevailing wages.

In one of a series of tweets about a conversation Pelosi had with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the relief bill, Hammill tweeted: "The Speaker conveyed that the remaining open items on omnibus could be readily resolved and enlisted the Secretary’s help in the discussion of inadequate Davis-Bacon protections in the energy section…"

The energy section of the broader $1.4 trillion spending package for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 includes priorities for both parties.

Text of that legislation is expected to be published Tuesday and contains a series of measures from a sweeping energy bill that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, unveiled in the spring with ranking member Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.V., according to people familiar with the matter.

Others cautioned that House Democratic leadership had not delivered an official blessing of the energy deal, and that the situation remained fluid with moving pieces that include a pandemic relief measure and other provisions in the omnibus.

Representatives for Murkowski, Manchin and Pelosi did not respond to requests for comment about the bill, including questions about the effect of the speaker's request about labor protections.

Finishing an energy bill before this session ends would be a win for Murkowski, who has long sought to draft substantive energy legislation into law. She will pass the title of top Republican on the committee to Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., next year.

One of the draft bills obtained by CQ Roll Call would set a national goal for electricity production from wind, solar and geothermal sources. It also contains measures that boost the domestic nuclear industry, including by limiting imports of Russian uranium, as well as weatherization and energy efficiency programs.

Another addresses diesel emission reductions and carbon capture incentives.
Lame duck

President Donald Trump signed a short-term resolution Friday to fund the government while Congress negotiates the final spending package.

The push for a deal in the lame-duck session comes even as more than 300 left-leaning organizations signed a letter to Democratic leaders last week urging them not advance broad energy legislation until the Biden administration takes office in January.

In that letter, groups such as 350.org called for urgent action on climate change that also brings justice for those disproportionately affected by pollution.

“We have serious concerns about the prospects of the Senate moving legislation in lame duck that will provide subsidies to support fossil fuels, offshore drilling, and nuclear energy, as well as support false climate solutions like carbon capture and storage, biofuels, offsets and carbon pricing,” the groups wrote.

Speaking on the Senate floor Monday, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the bipartisan energy bill, which has yet to be officially announced, would include a provision to cut hydrofluorocarbons — substances found in common home goods such as aerosols, refrigerants, air-conditioning units, medical devices and sprays.

Phasing out these chemicals, known as HFCs, has broad support from chemical manufacturers, which are lining up replacement products, and could avoid as much as 0.5 of a degree Celsius of warming worldwide. Global agreements aim to prevent warming of 2 degrees Celsius.

When Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., attached an amendment to ramp down HFCs to the Murkowski-Manchin energy bill, the bill stalled.

But after Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., announced a deal in September with Kennedy and Carper, the trio cleared a path to both slash HFCs and pass Murkowski’s energy legislation.

That agreement would authorize a national 15-year “phasedown” of HFCs, which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide, that EPA would implement.

“Today, I am very happy to report that we have made very good progress towards an agreement on HFC reduction,” Schumer said. “We are about to get it done, and that would be one of the biggest victories to fight global warming in a very long time.”