By Rebecca Kern
Aug. 19 — Defense. Defense. Defense.
That's the strategy for groups lobbying on clean energy issues who say they are gearing up for a tough fight this fall in Congress and stand ready to tackle any efforts to block the first comprehensive energy law in nearly 10 years.
Clean energy groups remain optimistic that the first broad energy bills passed by the House and Senate since 2007 could become law during this congressional session and are lining up to ensure partisan efforts don't kill provisions to improve the adoption and expansion of renewable technologies, especially during the lame duck congressional session after the November elections.
“This will be the final quarter of our defense,” Sierra Club's Melinda Pierce, the environmental group's legislative director, told Bloomberg BNA. “As I look at the 114th Congress, there are rare opportunities to do some offensive, pro-active energy work.”
House and Senate members who shepherded the bills, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), will meet in a conference committee to address the highly divergent bills when Congress returns from recess in early September.
The American Wind Energy Association, a trade association representing wind power manufacturers, and the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade association representing solar power industries, lobbied in support of the two energy bills (S. 2012) and (H.R. 8) this past quarter in Congress, from April 1- June 30.
Similarly, Aaron Severn, AWEA's, senior director of federal legislative affairs, told Bloomberg BNA the group's focus going into the election season will be “educational and preparing for opportunities that may come up next year, and playing defense on the issues that still could come up before the end of the year.”
As the conference committee progresses, Radha Adhar, a Sierra Club clean energy lobbyist who left the group Aug. 17, told Bloomberg BNA, “Our objective has been—and will continue to be as they move into lame-duck—how to ensure that bill is the strongest clean energy bill that we could get in this Congress.”
Some provisions the Sierra Club wants featured in the final product are to ensure it incentivizes clean energy technologies, cuts carbon pollution, protects wildlife and public lands, said Radha, who recently took a new job as a research appointee on clean energy jobs at the Energy Department. She expects both chambers could vote on the bill from the conference committee after the November elections.
Sierra Club, AWEA and SEIA noted the strong differences between two bills—with the House version being primarily a political bill and the Senate version being a policy-oriented bill. They said they will continue to work this fall to ensure the more policy-focused Senate provisions remain in the final product.
The groups plan to lobby for adequate environmental agency budgets in the appropriations bills when Congress returns in September. SEIA will lobby on the Department of Energy's budget, particularly to ensure funding remains at least at current levels for the SunShot Initiative to make solar energy more cost-competitive. AWEA is pressing Congress to keep DOE funding for programs investing in wind energy development.
AWEA's Severn said he's pleased to find one energy topic that has bipartisan support from both Republican and Democratic party platforms going into the presidential elections—the need to better streamline the electric transmission siting and development process.
“Transmission development as infrastructure and as an economic growth opportunity is one that we're looking closely at and something that we would expect that we would work with other energy sectors on,” Severn said.
“A lot of it really boils down to resolving these issues when there's disagreement between the states, especially challenging when you're trying to get transmission developed inter-regionally, between the regional transmission operators,” he said.
Both party platforms mentioned the transmission siting challenge, particularly relevant for renewable resources, such as wind and solar, which are often built further from existing transmission infrastructure. Wind and solar industries say they face challenges building new transmission lines to connect the resources to the grid.
The 2016 Democratic party platform focused on new transmission to integrate renewables, saying, “We will streamline federal permitting to accelerate the construction of new transmission lines to get low-cost renewable energy to market, and incentivize wind, solar, and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants.”
The 2016 Republican party platform also focused on cutting the permitting process from the seven to 10 years it currently takes, saying, “We support expedited siting processes and the thoughtful expansion of the grid so that consumers and businesses continue to have access to affordable and reliable electricity.”
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said during her campaign that she plans to increase clean energy jobs. In particular, she has advocated for modernizing the North American energy infrastructure by investing in clean energy innovation, manufacturing and workforce development.
If elected president, Clinton promises to expand the amount of installed solar by 140 gigawatts by the end of 2020, a 700 percent increase from current levels. She says she would overhaul the leasing process to expand clean energy production by 10 times on public lands and waters in 10 years.
Both of these provisions have the broad support of SEIA.
“Sen. Clinton has a pretty robust list of policies that we're very excited about in terms of their potential to help the solar industry grow even more,” Christopher Mansour, SEIA vice president of federal affairs, told Bloomberg BNA. “We feel that's a very ambitious goal,” of 140 gigawatts, “but we're willing to work with her to make that happen.”
Clinton supports the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan (RIN:2060-AR33), which has been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and will go to oral arguments before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in late September.
AWEA, SEIA and Sierra Club are lobbying in support of the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.
“It's incredibly exciting that the centerpiece of her jobs program is clean energy, is green infrastructure, is a fix-it agenda ... and reenergizing the clean energy economy,” said Pierce of the Sierra Club.
“The kinds of things Clinton has put forward is in fact the kinds of policies that we wish Congress would in fact take up,” she said.
Meanwhile, she raised grave concerns about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's promise to rescind the EPA's Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule, as well as canceling the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement within his first 100 days in office.
Pierce is looking ahead to the 115th Congress for hope if the energy bill doesn't pass this current session, especially with a potential for a switch to Democratic leadership in the Senate after the elections.
“We'll try and see if they can get a product this term, but my expectation of getting to a product that could past muster in both bodies, and be something that Sierra Club could support is very low,” she said.
“Frankly, I would be more interested to see a more ambitious package come up during the 115th Congress,” she said. “I do expect the elections will change the look of the Senate, and hopefully the gavel will switch. And I would have higher hopes of a better piece of energy legislation coming out of a new Congress.”
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