In contentious climate bill, some points of possible agreement

Elements of the bill with a shot at bipartisan support include electricity standards, carbon-trapping technology and toxic chemicals

Flames from a flaring pit are seen near a well in the Bakken oil formation, which stretches from North Dakota and Montana into Canada. (Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images file photo)
Flames from a flaring pit are seen near a well in the Bakken oil formation, which stretches from North Dakota and Montana into Canada. (Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images file photo)
Posted March 4, 2021 at 6:00am

Republicans greeted climate legislation from their Democratic peers with a cold embrace, calling it a "one-size-fits-all” approach. Nevertheless, some elements of the bill have a shot at bipartisan support, including electricity standards, carbon-trapping technology, toxic chemicals, a diesel emissions program and controls on methane.

The bill, which Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats introduced Tuesday, sets national targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent by 2030, down from 2005 levels, and reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.

Its central element, a policy known as a “clean electricity standard,” would require utility companies nationwide to generate a rising percentage of their electricity from zero-emissions sources, hitting 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035.

The bill is the first piece of broad climate legislation to be introduced in the 117th Congress and contains elements likely to be rolled into a broader climate-and-infrastructure bill.

[Sweeping climate bill aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050]

“We’re beginning to see actual legislative language being put together to enact the Biden legislative agenda,” Lindsey Walter, deputy director for the climate and energy program at Third Way, a centrist think tank, said in an interview.

While ranking member Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and David McKinley, R-W.V., swiftly rebuked the legislation as a “rush to green with one-size-fits-all regulations,” the members said they were open to working on specific provisions addressing innovation, nuclear power and hydroelectricity.

GOP ideas

Recent legislation from committee Republicans also hint at areas of potential bipartisan support within the bill, though it appears unlikely the legislation would get much if any GOP backing in its present form.

McKinley and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced legislation in December to establish a clean electricity standard with the goal of cutting 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2050.

That target is not as aggressive as the bill Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., introduced last Congress. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the business lobbying and advocacy group, backed the McKinley-Schrader legislation last year.

Nearly three-quarters of states had adopted voluntary or compulsory electricity standards as of early 2019, according to researchers with Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan organization.

“The idea of a national clean energy standard is not new, and the concept has received bipartisan support,” the researchers wrote, noting that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sponsored CES legislation in 2010 that aimed for generating 50 percent of U.S. electricity with clean sources by 2050.

The Democrats’ bill this Congress includes other topics that draw bipartisan interest.

It includes $5 million for fiscal 2022 through fiscal 2026 for the injection and sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions into deep rock formations. Carbon capture technology has strong support from oil- and coal-state members of both parties, including Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.V., the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and his GOP counterpart on the panel, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

The bill also reauthorizes $500 million annually for fiscal 2022 through 2031, for a federal grant program at the EPA to help states reduce emissions from diesel vehicles.

“It is a voluntary program, administered by the EPA, that helps fund the retrofit or replacement of existing heavy-duty diesel vehicles, engines, and equipment with cleaner diesel or new technology,” Upton said Sept. 9, 2019, on the House floor in support of the program. “The federal and state grants and other assistance under this program resulted in cleaner, more efficient vehicles, and the net effect is cleaner air in cities and communities that, in fact, need it the most.”  

Methane

And last year, Upton introduced a bill to reduce methane emissions from burning off natural gas at drilling and processing sites, a practice known as flaring.

Methane is more than 80 times more potent to the climate than carbon dioxide. EPA weakened methane regulation in August 2019 to mixed reaction from the oil and gas industry.

Oil-and-gas giants Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP  PLC and Equinor are broadly in favor of limiting methane gas releases through flaring.

The House bill also carves out a new grant program at EPA to provide funding for water utilities to address contamination from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — better known as PFAS, the near-ubiquitous chemicals found in myriad consumer goods — and authorizes funding for that program at $500 million for fiscal 2022 through 2031.

A rare environmental issue that has bipartisan urgency, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has made PFAS a focus early this Congress as have dozens of Democrats in both chambers.

At a subcommittee hearing last summer, Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., an Energy and Commerce panel member, called the presence of PFAS contamination across Michigan “alarming.” 

“The number of PFAS confirmed sites has grown rapidly over the last few years, my district included, and Michiganians are seriously concerned,'' he said.