Washington lawmakers may throw billions of taxpayer dollars at clean energy next year, prompting a rush of ideas about how to do it and how effective it can be at tackling climate change.
Driving the news: With the federal government’s political power likely divided, the biggest policies may come through an economic recovery package in the form of subsidies and other spending.
Where it stands: Extending wind and solar tax credits are at the top of the list for Democrats and renewable-energy lobbyists. But more measures are in the works that could also hitch a ride on a stimulus bill.
- One is a bipartisan Senate bill introduced last week that would give subsidies to nuclear power plants that are in danger of closing down. It would also streamline the regulatory government reviews that advanced nuclear power plants must undergo.
- Another is a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) proposal intended to bring cleaner electricity to areas currently powered by coal and natural gas (more on that below).
Yes, but: A GOP Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell of coal-rich Kentucky is unlikely to approve anything close to President-elect Joe Biden's campaign goal of $2 trillion over four years for clean energy and climate policy.
The big picture: Washington has a decades-long practice of approving carrots (rewards) over sticks (penalties) to affect energy policy.
- In fact, the federal government has almost never passed a major “sticks” policy — like carbon taxes and mandates penalizing oil, natural gas and coal — despite decades of debate about such approaches.
What they’re saying: For now, Washington’s divided control continues to favor the carrot-only approach, but with a boost of Democratic leadership in the White House.
“Under unified government, energy innovation would be broadly popular but might compete for attention with other progressive priorities. Under divided government, it's the first priority for climate action, the most politically feasible, and I happen to think the most important." — Varun Sivaram, of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy
By the numbers: The federal government should almost triple federal investment into energy innovation to $25 billion by 2025, compared to less than $9 billion currently, per a recent book by Sivaram and others.
The bottom line: Most experts agree Washington will eventually have to use sticks along with carrots to have a real impact on climate change.