It’s become far too easy to portray Congress as a body that can’t legislate or negotiate anymore — even on topics large majorities of Americans agree should be a priority. Take clean energy and climate change, for example. Even though polling consistently shows voters across the political spectrum agree federal action is needed, Congress hasn’t been able to update the nation’s energy laws in over a decade.
But Congressional momentum is suddenly picking up on energy innovation legislation. Senate Democrats and Republicans recently reached an agreement that cleared the way for passage of the American Energy and Innovation Act. This bipartisan bill includes provisions to boost clean energy, invest in workforce development and increase energy efficiency. The House of Representatives passed its energy innovation bill last Thursday, which contains many similar provisions to the Senate measure.
Now it will be up to the Senate. As Americans begin heading to the polls with record wildfires in the West, hurricanes and flooding in the South and a lagging economy on their minds, passage of the American Energy Innovation Act offers senators of both parties one of their last, best chances before election day to prove they are serious about creating jobs and investing in the low-carbon transition.
The Senate bill was released by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress Durbin: Democrats can ‘slow’ Supreme Court confirmation ‘perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most’ Senate GOP set to vote on Trump’s Supreme Court pick before election MORE (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by JobsOhio – Trump’s tax return bombshell Sunday Shows: Trump’s court pick dominates MORE (D-W.Va.) in February, after a bipartisan process that included 72 senators and more than 50 individual bills. The House bill similarly incorporated over 40 individual bills, many of which were bipartisan. If passed into the law, the result will be substantial new investment in the energy sector, with a strong emphasis on innovation and workforce development. Specifically, both bills support research into battery storage, cutting-edge nuclear and carbon capture technologies and advanced hydropower and geothermal energy. Expanding the energy efficiency sector employment, which has lost 345,000 jobs alone since March, is another main focus.
The Senate bill hit a snag which has kept it on the sidelines since the spring. But Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress Trump’s Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the ‘wins’ Senate to push funding bill vote up against shutdown deadline MORE (R-Wyo.) announced recently that he and Ranking Member Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress The conservative case for phasing out hydrofluorocarbons Democrat asks for probe of EPA’s use of politically appointed lawyers MORE (D-Del.) had agreed on an amendment that will gradually phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and overcome a major obstacle to enactment. Now, Congress has a narrow window before Nov. 3 to send the energy innovation bill to President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau intends to wrap up count on Oct. 5 despite judge’s order Top House Republican calls for probe of source of NYT Trump tax documents New Yorkers report receiving ballots with wrong name, voter addresses MORE’s desk.
American voters want action on climate change. In addition to the growing call to action from corporate America, key groups, including suburban women, minorities and young voters are driving a shift within the GOP. Among young Republican voters, 79 percent want to see leadership from their party on climate. Two-thirds of Americans say the government should be doing more.
But even with a renewed focus on climate change due to its role in Western wildfires, the economy remains the top issue for voters. At the beginning of 2020, 3.3 million Americans were employed in the clean energy sector, an increase for the fifth straight year. Today, nearly half a million clean energy workers are jobless. Key battleground states including Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio have been hit hardest.
The Senate and House bills would deliver on both climate and jobs. Manchin called the Senate bill a “down payment on emissions reducing technologies,” that would “connect energy-producing communities, including in states like West Virginia and Alaska, to new markets and job opportunities.”
While the broader national climate debate remains polarized, the “energy innovation” agenda has united Democrats and Republicans in recent years. Leaders on both sides of the aisle have called for increased investment in emissions-reducing technologies and emphasized the jobs potential of clean energy. More difficult conversations about emission targets, subsidies and international agreements lie ahead, but for now, putting the energy innovation agenda into action should unite both sides.
For Republicans, passing an energy bill is a political must. Without a viable alternative approach, criticism of the Green New Deal rings hollow. By helping to pass this bill, Republicans will have established a new constructive posture.
For Democrats, passing an innovation package is needed to clear the decade-long innovation items from the docket, and enable potential further climate action next Congress. Most importantly, it demonstrates that bipartisan progress is possible on climate change.
As November approaches, Americans will send leaders back to Congress who not only promise economic progress and environmental sustainability, but also deliver on it. Passing an energy innovation bill will put Americans back to work building a cleaner and more prosperous future. Members of both parties would be wise to seize this opportunity for climate action.
Sasha Mackler is the director of the Energy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Quill Robinson is the vice president of Government Affairs at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).