Senate Hearing on Bingaman Clean Energy Standard

My C2ES colleague, Judi Greenwald, will be testifying on Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012, a bill written by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the committee chairman. As mentioned in my previous blogs (The Bingaman Clean Energy Standard: Let the Conversation Begin and The Bingaman Clean Energy Standard: What is "Clean"?) and in our primer on the design of a clean energy standard (CES), we think a CES holds a lot of potential for maintaining a diverse energy mix, advancing clean energy technology and associated industries, and reducing the environmental footprint of the electric power sector—including the sector's greenhouse gas emissions, which account for about one third of the U.S. total.

As Judi will attest, we also think Sen. Bingaman's bill is a great start, and balances the multiple objectives we would have for such a measure.  On Thursday, we get to hear what a few other people think. 

Watch this space Thursday morning as I live blog from the hearing and post updates below.

Update May 17, 11:58 am: It’s a standing-room-only crowd at this morning’s hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Senator Jeff Bingaman’s proposal for a federal clean energy standard.

Senators in attendance: Committee chairman Sen. Bingaman (D-NM), top committee Republican Sen. Murkowski (R-AK), Barrasso (R-WY), Cantwell (D-WA), Coons (D-DE), Corker (R-TN), Franken (D-MN), Manchin (D-WV), Risch (R-ID), Shaheen (D-NH), Udall (D-CO), Wyden (D-OR)

Here are some highlights of the question-and-answer session during the hearing’s first panel, with witnesses David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, and Dr. Howard Gruenspecht, Acting Administrator of the Energy Information Administration:

Sen. Bingaman pointed out that EIA projects that electricity rates would increase by 2035 under the CES, but then asked how would electricity bills will be affected.  Mr. Sandalow answered that the modeling shows that the average household energy bill would actually decline by $5 a month by 2035, in large part because of the energy efficiency promoted by the bill. Dr. Gruenspecht agreed.

Sen. Murkowski asked whether the cost of renewable energy being used by federal agencies under the Energy Policy Act of 2007 is an indication of the costs that would be seen under Sen. Bingaman’s bill. Mr. Sandalow pointed out that a key difference between Sen. Bingaman’s bill and the 2007 law is that the CES would give credit not only for renewable energy, but for nuclear power, natural gas, and clean coal, which would lead to lower prices than renewable energy alone.

Sen. Barrasso asked whether the Obama administration would rescind greenhouse gas regulations promulgated under the Clean Air Act if Sen. Bingaman’s bill were enacted.  Mr. Sandalow said the administration would not support such an amendment to the Clean Air Act.  For the record, C2ES believes that if a CES, or any other measure, led to significant reductions in GHG emissions from a given economic sector, we should be open to using that measure rather than the existing provisions of the Clean Air Act that pertain to that sector.

Sen. Franken suggested that it might be worth setting aside a fraction of the bill’s requirement for clean energy specifically for renewable energy.  In fact, while most states have renewable energy standards in place, four—Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—have alternative energy standards, similar to Sen. Bingaman’s clean energy standard proposal, and each of the four takes an approach that favors renewable energy sources over the other qualifying clean energy sources.

Update May 17, 1:55 pm: Here are some quick notes on the second panel of this morning’s hearing. The room is still full even though many of the Senators and journalists have left—thus missing a discussion on preemption that was arguably the most noteworthy exchange of the entire hearing.

After the opening statements, Senators Bingaman and Murkowski had an extended back-and-forth with the panelists about the overlap between the Bingaman bill and other regulatory programs. The panelists offered a range of views, with a couple supporting preemption of the Clean Air Act authority. C2ES’s Judi Greenwald expressed a more nuanced view:

The key issue is environmental results. If a CES is ambitious enough, and can achieve greater environmental benefits than we can get under existing Clean Air Act Authority, it might make sense to consider replacing some Clean Air Act provisions with a CES. However, we need to be very cautious. The Clean Air Act has very broad authority to address GHG emissions throughout the economy and the CES only applies to power plants. We would need to ensure that EPA maintains its authority to continue to make progress in other sectors, for example, as with the successful greenhouse gas standards for vehicles.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to exploring this issue is the deep partisan divide over EPA and the Clean Air Act. With members of Congress calling for an evisceration of EPA and the Clean Air Act, there is a legitimate concern that opening up the Act for an ostensibly narrow revision would lead to a gutting of provisions having nothing to do with greenhouse gases.

On another topic, Sen. Franken discussed Minnesota’s energy efficiency resource standard, and asked whether incentives for energy efficiency could be incorporated into the Bingaman bill. Judi Greenwald pointed out that many of the bill’s features would indeed promote energy efficiency: crediting of combined heat and power, the use of revenues raised through the alternative compliance payment, and the very structure of the proposed standard—it would be set as a percentage of total electricity production; if electricity use goes down, the requirement is easier to meet. 

One thing we wish we could've said:

During the first panel, Sen. Corker said carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be broadly deployed when donkeys fly. Sen. Manchin, who takes a decidedly more favorable view towards CCS, was nevertheless concerned that the bill does not promote CCS.

Here's what we would have said, had they raised those points during the second panel:

While EIA projects that CCS is not deployed under the bill, it could be. CCS could play a bigger role under this bill if we can bring down its costs. There are a number of options for doing that. For example, C2ES co-convenes the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative, which is calling for a federal tax credit to capture and transport CO2 from power plants and industrial sources for use in enhanced oil recovery. In addition to driving a lot of domestic oil production, and reducing CO2 emissions, it would generate additional revenue to cover the cost of CCS.  We would expect that as CCS costs come down, it would enable coal to have a bigger role. A CES could help in other ways as well. AEP put the Mountaineer project on hold and withdrew from its partnership with DOE on this project because regulators in several states could not justify the expense for a technology that is not required by law. The CES could make the case for projects like Mountaineer to go forward.

Manik Roy is Vice President for Strategic Outreach at C2ES