The Senate is continuing to struggle through negotiations on the landmark American Energy Innovation Act first introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., early in the year, but still hopes to pass it this year, according to Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
If passed, the bill would likely be a slimmed down version of what Democrats and the clean energy industry want to see in a comprehensive energy bill, and Democrats are urging President-elect Joe Biden to prioritize a green infrastructure bill "very early" in his term, Van Hollen said during a virtual conference hosted by the Coalition for Green Capital.
Meanwhile, the clean energy sector is urging Congress to take action on clean energy and infrastructure faster — by the end of 2020 as part of a broader COVID-19 recovery bill.
While the House passed its own comprehensive infrastructure bill earlier this year, as well as its companion bill to the Senate’s American Energy Innovation Act, progress in the Senate has largely been stalled as the result of a provision in the legislative package that would reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). The White House threatened to veto the bill if passed earlier this year, citing the Trump Administration’s opposition to the HFC phasedown, among other things.
"We're trying to work out some of the remaining challenges with that piece of legislation," said Van Hollen on Tuesday. "We had hoped to get it done many, many months ago," but the disagreements over that provision have limited progress, he said. Democrats had attempted to "shoehorn" other provisions into the legislative package, which largely focuses on demonstration projects for new technologies, including green financing mechanisms, said Van Hollen.
Now, "we will be fortunate if we can get through the pieces that had been on the table earlier," he said. Anything else "will have to be part of an early Biden proposal," he said, "but we're still working on trying to get [the Energy Innovation Act] through."
The American Energy Innovation Act would be Murkowski’s final triumph as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources — she steps down in January and will be replaced by either Ranking Member Manchin or Sen. John Barrasso, D-Wyo., depending on the outcome of two Senate runoff races in Georgia.
The bill supports innovation for broad swaths of the energy sector including nuclear, energy storage, geothermal and solar. But though clean energy proponents support those provisions, they are hoping to see more comprehensive clean energy legislation pass Congress before the year is over.
"[E]ven the most productive federal R&D can take years before translating into a commercial product," said Bill Parsons, chief operating officer at the American Council on Renewable Energy in an email, adding that the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 and the climate crisis call for more urgency.
Earlier this year, a coalition of green business, clean energy and environmental groups sent a letter to Congress, urging members to include support for green energy and transportation in a COVID-19 relief package before the end of the year. Specifically, the letter asks Congress to extend tax credits for wind and solar, modernize incentives for energy efficiency improvements, and offer the production tax credit and investment tax credit to offshore wind, storage and transmission resources as stand alone technologies, among other things.
"Enacting these common sense emergency relief measures into law as part of must-pass legislation this year would immediately put people back to work and enable the renewable sector to help power the nation’s economic recovery," said Parsons.