This issue of Climate Politics/Capitol Light focuses on a single piece of legislation—because of its significance. Look for the next issue of the newsletter to report on various climate-related Capitol Hill activities again.

For the first time in a very long time, a significant energy bill will be debated in the Senate during the week of March 1st. The legislation, The American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA, S. 2657), is the product of a collaboration between Senators Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). Murkowski is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR), while Manchin is the ranking Democrat on the panel.

In truth, the AEIA is more of a vehicle for portions of over 50 pieces of legislation that the Senate Energy Committee previously considered and cleared for a floor vote. As introduced, AEIA is an amalgam of measures sponsored or cosponsored by more than 60 Senators. The provisions are arranged under two titles–Innovation and Supply Chain Security. The first focuses on American leadership in the research and development of innovative energy technologies. The second aims to improve national security in critical areas and facilitate workforce development. (Click here for the 2 page summary of AEIA summary published by the ENR)

Readers should be aware that the proposed legislation is taking on the number of an existing bill (S. 2657), the Advanced Geothermal Innovation Leadership Act of 2019. Because the original version of S. 2657 has been reported out by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the bill is technically ready to be scheduled for a Senate floor debate. The bill is just waiting for Senate Majority Leader McConnell to assign the date. Once on the Senate floor for consideration, Chairman Murkowski will move to substitute the entirety of the old [Geo-thermal Act] language with the new. The title will be changed, but the number will remain the same.

The various provisions in the 550 pages of the Act include measures boosting energy efficiency, supporting research funding for energy storage, advanced nuclear systems, and carbon capture and sequestration. The legislation also encourages the development and application of emissions-cutting technologies in the industrial and transportation sectors.

Murkowski says the bill is our best chance to modernize our nation’s energy policies in more than 12 years. Manchin describes the proposed package of provisions as the effort of intense bipartisan work that will make a down payment on emissions-reducing technologies.

Murkowski and Manchin are being given credit for their efforts in getting a bill out of the committee. Moreover, the committee staff has indicated that the proposal, in its current form, would be accepted by Trump. However, the likelihood that the bill will be passed as is—or with minor changes—is low.

The proposed legislation is being criticized as much for what it includes as for what it doesn’t. Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns—as have outside groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.

For example, efforts to amend the bill with language from S. 2137, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESIC) were unsuccessful. S.2137 promotes energy savings in residential buildings and strengthens national model building codes. The Senate ENR Committee had previously approved of the bill, which was co-sponsored by Senators Portman (R-OH), Collins (R-ME), Shaheen (D-NH), Wicker (R-MS), and Warren (D-MA).

Also AWOL from the AEIA draft is language from S. 2754—the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2019 sponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and John Neely Kennedy (R-LA). The proposed legislation is meant to create jobs and drive innovation and economic growth by promoting the manufacture of next-generation, low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission technologies, including refrigerants, solvents, fire suppressants, foam blowing agents, aerosols, and propellants. Co-sponsors of the bill included Senators Markey (D-MA) and Graham (R-SC).

The Murkowski/Manchin bill does not give a nod to any of the recent legislative proposals by House Republicans that could be candidates for bipartisan action and approval by the White House. Representative Westerman’s (R-AR) Trillion Trees Act (H.R. 5859) falls into this category.

Senate Democrats have expressed concerns over provisions in the AEIA having to do with the Mineral Security title that they opposed in other legislation. The provisions, in part, encourage the Energy Department to develop technologies to separate rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts.

Murkowski and Manchin are prepared to parry efforts to include tax credits for electric vehicles, energy storage, and other renewables. The senators have already indicated their opposition to any amendments having to do with tax credits; as revenue measures, tax credits must originate in the House.

Some environmental groups, e.g., the Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, and Friends of the Earth, seek to exclude certain elements of the 50 underlying bills that were incorporated into S. 2657. These include:

  • S.1317, the American Mineral Security Act;
  • S.903, The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act;
  • S.2368, The Nuclear Energy Renewal Act
  • S.1201, The Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology;
  • S.1685, Launching Energy Advancement and Development through Innovations for Natural Gas; and
  • S.816, Small-Scale LNG Access Act

The bill also includes language offensive to some environmental groups that would speed approval of exports of liquified natural gas.

The legislation is not without its supporters. Groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, ClearPath Action, and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions have endorsed the effort.

Under other circumstances, the proposed American Energy Innovation Act would offer a more favorable vehicle for bipartisan action. With it being an election year in which partisan differences are magnified, it is nearly impossible to conceive of the Act ever being passed by Congress. It is not to say the legislation as proposed by Murkowski and Manchin is not without value.

The proposed legislation is evidence that forces on the right and left of the aisle are still capable of seeing past their partisan differences to make constructive proposals. Most importantly, perhaps, this legislation, as well as the recent climate-related proposals on the House side, reflect the now majority opinion on Capitol Hill that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. How it needs to be addressed is the question. Still, these proposals are steps up from denial.