Though the US Senate has abandoned efforts to pass comprehensiveclimate legislation this year, a bipartisan group of senators has takenup the challenge of attempting to pass at least some type of sweepingbill to encourage renewable energy and sustainable business. And—somewhat unexpectedly—it’s beginning tolook as if this less ambitious bill might actually stand a chance ofbecoming law. If it does, the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act couldserve as a stepping stone to broader climate policy later on.
The Renewable Electricity Promotion Act, written largely by Democratic senator from New Mexico Jeff Bingaman,would encourage sustainable business by requiring major utilities source 15% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2021. It would be the first time the United States adopted a national renewable energy standard of the sort already set in place by nearly half of US states. Somestate renewable energy standards are much more ambitious than others,but all have in common the provision that utilities generate a givenpercentage of their electricity from renewables by a specified date.Just in the past week California increased its state renewable energystandard to a 33% requirement by 2020—the strongest standard of anystate so far.
Under the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act, states like Californiawith more impressive renewable energy ambitions than 15% by 2021 wouldbe allowed to keep their stronger standards. The bill’s effect wouldmainly be felt, then, in states with very weak renewable energystandards or with no such standard at all. A nationwide standard wouldsend a signal to sustainable business that the United States iscommitted to growing the renewable energy industry in everystate—decreasing the odds of entrepreneurs abandoning the US for more attractive markets elsewhere. Thus passing a renewable energy standard is as much about creating andretaining jobs in sustainable business as it is about supplanting fossil fuels and protecting the environment.
The Renewable Electricity Promotion Act has twenty-five co-sponsors inthe Senate, four of whom are Republicans. Almost anything could happenbetween now and late fall, when Senator Bingaman hopes to introduce hisbill to the Senate floor. But one encouraging indicator is thatsupporters from both parties seem committed to not letting it becomebogged down with provisions only tangentially related to the originalgoal of increasing renewable electricity generation. While this meansthe renewable energy standard won’t become a more comprehensive climatebill, it will also hopefully prevent incentives for nuclear power,"clean coal," and offshore oil drilling from being tacked on.
By keeping the bill simple, sponsors apparently hope to give senators on both right and left fewer controversial provisions to argue about. This means if the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act does finally make itto a floor vote, senators will have a chance to cast or withhold theirvote for a bill a single and clearly defined aim: reclaiming the USplace in the world energy economy by committing to growing sustainablebusiness. That, you would think, should be a goal any politician couldsupport.
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Nick Engelfried is a freelance writer on climate and energy issues,and works with campuses and communities in the Pacific Northwest toreduce the causes of climate change.