Jul 8, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Biden leans into clean power mandate despite hurdles

Illustration of President Biden pointing at a smoke stack.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House is sending increasingly strong signals it will push for a zero-carbon power mandate in the energy and social safety net package Democrats hope to pass using filibuster-proof budget reconciliation rules.

Driving the news: President Biden, in a speech Wednesday, called for the policy that would require emissions-free electricity to provide a significantly growing share of power company sales.

  • "I want to set a clean electric standard that moves us to a fully clean and reliable grid," he said in Illinois.

Why it matters: Passing a "clean energy standard" (CES) would help advance Biden's goal of 100% carbon-free U.S. power by 2035.

The big picture: OK, so it's not news that the White House wants a CES in infrastructure legislation.

  • But, well, they want all kinds of things! What's notable is that lately, the White House has been getting much more vocal about the CES.
  • Last Tuesday top aides Gina McCarthy and Anita Dunn listed it among the priorities, and on Wednesday McCarthy called it one of the "bottom lines" for the reconciliation plan.
  • Biden's speech on Wednesday may be the first time he's publicly name-checked the policy since it was included in the big infrastructure wish-list the White House released in March.

The intrigue: How exactly backers will craft a plan to comply with reconciliation, which is designed for spending and revenue measures.

  • The Washington Examiner reports that Democrats may set annual clean power targets for utilities to hit.
  • "If utilities hit these targets, they would get financial support from the federal government. If they do not, they would face penalties," it reports.

What we're watching: Whether the votes are there. Sen. Joe Manchin has been skeptical of a CES, though his office did not respond to an inquiry yesterday about his current thinking.

And a CES would likely need to credit for nuclear power and natural gas with CO2 capture (which is not yet a thing commercially) to win over moderates, but some activists groups oppose those sources.

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