Jan 31, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Bipartisan House duo explore "clean energy standard"

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A bipartisan House duo is floating a new plan that's both a throwback idea and a sign of today's climate politics.

Driving the news: Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) want to require utilities to greatly cut carbon emissions by mid-century.

  • They laid out the broad strokes of their planned bill in a USA Today op-ed Thursday and through information circulated to reporters.

How it works: It would create a "clean energy standard" requiring an 80% cut in power sector emissions by 2050 while providing the industry all kinds of leeway to determine how to get there.

  • The mandate would not begin for up to 10 years, to be preceded by "public and private investments in clean energy innovation and infrastructure development."
  • It would also inoculate the industry from Clean Air Act carbon emissions regulations during the 10-year ramp-up.

Why it matters: The plan says a lot about the state of climate politics. It signals the GOP shift away from rejecting or at least challenging consensus climate science.

  • McKinley was in that camp years ago but the new op-ed calls climate change the "greatest environmental and energy challenge of our time."

The big picture: It's far less aggressive than what senior Capitol Hill Democrats and the party's White House hopefuls are promoting.

  • "The plan is modest, compared to other Democratic proposals aiming to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury across the entire economy, and many states that have imposed immediate clean electricity standards without delay," the Washington Examiner notes.

Between the lines: Ideas for a federal "clean energy standard" of some sort have been rattling around for a decade.

  • I first started noticing them when Republicans floated them as an alternative to Democratic calls for renewables-specific mandates, and then-President Obama floated his own version in 2011.

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The Green New Deal resolution, introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has helped cement climate change as a real topic in the 2020 presidential race.

What's happening: More Democratic candidates have pitched climate change policy that goes beyond the Green New Deal, largely to prepare for events like CNN's "climate crisis" town hall. The GND — which is more of a call to arms than a strict policy proposal — outlines a 10-year mobilization plan to move the country toward a 100% carbon-free power system and a decarbonized economy.

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The state of play: To some extent this is all theater because nobody expects this budget to resemble what's ultimately appropriated — but it complicates GOP efforts to tout their ideas when the president, who commands fierce loyalty from the party, is pushing in the other direction.

As Congress talks climate policy, carbon price gets no love

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New lobbying urging Congress to support a price on carbon emissions is not convincing lawmakers to warm up to the policy.

Why it matters: A carbon price is widely considered one of the most economically efficient ways to tackle climate change. But, economics be damned, its politics remain deeply unpopular.