Mar 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Energy and climate move closer to center stage on Capitol Hill

Earth rolling in front of Congress

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The imminent enactment of Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package creates space for lawmakers and the White House to craft infrastructure plans with big climate and energy-related provisions.

Why it matters: President Biden, during the campaign, vowed to make low-carbon energy, climate-resilient infrastructure and transportation projects a big focus of an economic recovery package. And the Texas power crisis could give fresh momentum to investments in grid modernization.

What we're watching: A major package isn't expected to come up for votes for months, but Capitol Hill hearings this week and going forward will offer glimpses into lawmakers' thinking.

They include...

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on "addressing climate change in the electricity sector and fostering economic growth.”
  • A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panel has a Wednesday hearing on the environmental and economic case for rail transport.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets Thursday for a hearing on power system reliability, resilience and affordability.

But, but, but: There are lots of questions right now, such as how many different packages will move (one thing to watch is the need to reauthorize five-year transportation programs), how much Democrats will again look to use budget reconciliation, and more.

What they're saying: Capital Alpha Partners' James Lucier, in a note, said the COVID-19 package passed more quickly and at a higher amount than he expected.

  • "As a result, Democrats may feel increased confidence in offering an aggressive clean energy and infrastructure package as part of a bigger 'economic recovery plan' toward the end of the year," he writes.
  • But Lucier's note also cautions that this will likely be more complicated than the big relief package that's expected to win final approval this week.
  • "There will be more separate topics involved and thus more committees. The House-Senate Conference committee could take a long time," he writes.

The intrigue: Sen. Joe Manchin, who chairs the energy committee, tells "Axios on HBO" that he doesn't want Biden's climate and infrastructure package to move through reconciliation.

  • That's the process Democrats just used for the COVID-19 relief package that makes certain spending and revenue measures immune from Senate filibuster, which is very important in the narrowly divided chamber.
  • Manchin also said he wants a big infrastructure package paid for with tax increases, including a higher corporate rate and higher taxes on the wealthy.
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