Capitol Hill is embroiled in multiple debates with major implications for the Biden administration’s climate agenda, with lawmakers weighing whether to rescind a Trump-era rule blocking methane limits for the oil sector, if they can pass a clean power standard in an infrastructure bill and how much funding to include in the fiscal year 2022 budget.
The debates -- some of which could come to a head in the coming weeks while others may drag on for months -- underscore the various moving parts facing the Biden administration and Democrats as they hope to ramp up efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Over the short-term, Democrats are hoping to aid the Biden EPA’s regulatory efforts by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rescind a Trump-era rule that blocked methane emissions from oil and gas facilities, and the Hill effort recently got a boost from a major oil company:
The oil giant Shell is ramping up its support for EPA to impose direct methane standards for the industry, urging lawmakers to approve a pending congressional resolution that would rescind the Trump administration’s rule scuttling methane and other emissions controls on oil and gas facilities.
“We need to restore the direct federal regulation of methane emissions, and we urge Congress to approve the methane resolution under the Congressional Review Act” (CRA), Shell said in an April 8 tweet.
Enactment of the resolution likely would put Obama-era methane limits for new equipment in the sector back on the books, paving the way for the Biden EPA to begin regulating emissions from existing sources.
Shell’s statement responds to a CRA resolution sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and nearly two dozen other Senate Democrats -- including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- that would repeal the Trump EPA’s oil and gas “policy” rule using expedited procedures requiring only a simple majority vote.
Democrats are expected to schedule a vote in the Senate on the resolution later this month.
The targeted regulation rolled back 2016 oil and gas emission standards under the Clean Air Act’s new source performance standards program. Specifically, it rescinded direct methane controls for the entire sector, while also scrapping volatile organic compound standards on transmission and storage facilities.
Another live policy debate is whether lawmakers can enact some version of a clean electricity standard (CES) as part of an infrastructure package, with a top administration official recently suggesting such a policy could be advanced via budget “reconciliation” procedures that avoid a Senate filibuster:
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is suggesting that Biden administration plans to provide federal incentives for states to adopt clean electricity standards (CES) could be an alternative to a federal standard that may be a heavy political lift as Democrats weigh whether to advance an infrastructure bill via special budget “reconciliation” tools that avoid a Senate filibuster.
“I think there still are versions of a clean energy standard that work for Senate reconciliation rules,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told an April 13 BloombergNEF summit, while emphasizing the issue is still up for negotiations. “I think that's an opportunity, and you can see how committed this administration is to doing a clean energy standard even through the DOE FY22 budget.”
She added that there’s “a way to consider crafting something that provides incentives to the states to be able to have that happen” under reconciliation. This could be “another venue” for setting a de facto national CES, helping to achieve the Biden administration’s goal of a net-zero power sector by 2035.
Granholm’s comments come as administration officials are hoping to curry support for a CES from the utility sector, though Hill observers are putting long odds on the prospects for policy, particularly if Democrats resort to using reconciliation for their infrastructure bill:
Former Senate staffers are skeptical that lawmakers can pass a clean electricity standard (CES), a key measure for limiting greenhouse gases, using expedited budget procedures -- or possibly at all -- as part of infrastructure legislation, arguing the policy faces long odds despite support from House Democrats and the Biden administration.
“It is a very tall order” to move a CES using this process, AJW partner Chris Miller, a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), told an April 6 event, while acknowledging that such a strategy has been a matter of “intense discussion behind the scenes for close to a year now.”
The group Evergreen Action in a February report touted CES options that it says could be enacted via reconciliation, arguing the measure can be structured with direct ties to federal spending that are a requirement for inclusion in reconciliation bills.
In addition, a leading CES supporter in Congress is tailoring her pitch for the idea to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a key moderate vote who is considered pivotal on climate and energy issues in the narrowly divided chamber:
Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), a leading sponsor of clean electricity standard (CES) legislation, is tailoring her pitch for the policy to attract support from Senate energy committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV), arguing the measure along with big clean energy investments would lead to major opportunities for fossil fuel-dependent areas.
During an April 9 webinar hosted by the Minnesota environmental group Fresh Energy, Smith noted that all of her fellow senators are focused on creating economic growth in their states.
“I think about my colleague Joe Manchin . . . he needs to understand this clean energy transition is not going to leave his state high and dry, that the opportunities are going to happen in his state,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons it’s so important that a CES is part of this broader infrastructure package that will include investments that will be of such huge benefit to West Virginia and other states.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden recently sent lawmakers the outlines of his fiscal year 2022 budget request, calling for a significant boost in discretionary spending across the board, and for a host of climate initiatives at various agencies:
President Joe Biden’s first budget request to Congress includes funding boosts for a wide range of climate policies that reflect his whole-of-government approach to the issue, while also codifying many spending priorities laid out by his infrastructure proposal unveiled last month.
Overall, the Biden proposal calls for a $14 billion increase above current spending for climate change programs.
“The discretionary request includes major new climate change investments -- an increase of more than $14 billion compared to 2021 -- across nearly every agency to invest in resilience and clean energy, enhance U.S. competitiveness, and put America on a path to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050 -- all while supporting communities that have been left behind and ensuring that 40 percent of the benefits from tackling the climate crisis are targeted toward addressing the disproportionately high cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities,” the White House budget office wrote in an April 9 memo to appropriators.
Experts are interpreting Biden’s FY22 plan as a statement of his aggressive goals on climate and environmental justice:
The initial outlines of the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal, released April 9, are being viewed as a statement of its aggressive goals to advance climate change policy and environmental justice, as well as a rejection of prior restraints on discretionary spending.
Biden “has integrated climate into all aspects of the budget from the get-go,” says an April 9 note from climate policy consultant Jeremy Symons, who adds that the administration’s FY22 plan “reflects the way they have organized within the White House and [the Office of Management & Budget] to ensure this work to tackle ‘the generational crisis of climate change’ is not siloed to the purview of only a few agencies.”
Similarly, the research firm ClearView Energy Partners in its own April 9 analysis notes that spending on electric vehicle chargers is included in the individual budgets for 18 federal agencies, and that “virtually every department and agency breakout in the text that followed addressed climate change in some fashion.”
Documents released April 9 offer only the broad outlines of the administration’s FY22 request, with a more detailed spending proposal slated to arrive in the coming weeks. The administration says it sent the current summary to Capitol Hill as lawmakers returned from recess to inform debate over the president’s infrastructure proposal.