- Democrats have made strides in advancing clean energy funding and reaching bipartisan consensus on an infrastructure bill, but Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., on Thursday expressed doubts that a clean energy standard would ultimately be included in the broad $3.5 trillion infrastructure package Democrats hope to pass by budget reconciliation.
- Democrats say the standard, pushing utilities across the country to slash emissions, is a "technology neutral" piece of tax policy, but Lankford said it "took away every tax incentive for any fossil fuel at all and actually made it punitive for them to" produce.
- Climate policy is advancing through several pathways. The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday favorably reported out the $100 billion Energy Infrastructure Act, intended to become a part of the larger infrastructure package. The bipartisan measure passed 13-7, with Lankford voting against it. "We'll see if it's folded into the larger infrastructure package," he said. "Part of the frustration on the Republican side is, we keep hearing that this is going to get out of committee ... and then it will change significantly."
Lankford is from oil and gas-rich Oklahoma, but points out his state also uses large amounts of wind energy. Republicans are not anti-renewables, he says, but want to ensure that rapid decarbonization doesn't leave the United States too dependent on China for battery materials or solar panels, and doesn't send oil and gas prices too high.
Speaking at a virtual event hosted by Bloomberg Government on Thursday, Lankford, who also sits on the Senate Committee on Finance, pointed to a 14-14 markup in May of a bill to help advance clean energy.
The standard would "require us to buy more oil and petroleum from overseas, to match the price consumers want to get, and it would drive up our costs at the pump ... it's not actually technology neutral," Lankford said. "It's a nice way to see it," but in reality it is "a very, very aggressive way to be able to immediately drive up the cost of fossil fuels [and] try to get close to what the cost of renewables is."
Details of the clean energy standard are still being hammered out, but it is expected to be based on payments and penalties for utilities rather than specific mandates.
"I am optimistic we will be able to include a clean energy standard" in the budget reconciliation bill, said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M, also a member of the Senate energy committee and speaking alongside Lankford at the Bloomberg event.
"Much of the way it is structured" is to conform to parlimantary rules on what can go into a budget reconciliation bill, said Heinrich, and "making sure this is largely about math and not overtly setting policy through that structure."
Mechanisms to meet President Joe Biden's climate goals, including decarbonizing the power sector by 2035, are coming together through multiple legislative pathways.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday also indicated there is bipartisan agreement on a $579 billion legislative framework for infrastructure, with energy and climate considerations included, and wants votes to begin next week.
And the Energy Infrastructure Act, reported out by the Senate energy committee Wednesday, authorizes over $100 billion for transmission expansion, resilience enhancements, development of clean energy supply chains and water infrastructure to mitigate wildfire risk.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, from coal-heavy West Virginia, sponsored the legislation and chairs the committee.
"Today’s vote is another critical step toward finalizing our bipartisan infrastructure package, and an important reminder that we can find sensible solutions to difficult problems when we put partisanship aside and work together," he said in a statement.