Cap-and-trade bill died, though other trends may achieve goal without a law
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "create a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that will require 25 percent of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025."
As we previously noted, in June 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives, then controlled by the Democrats, narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill. The legislation required that 20 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020 -- a standard similar to what Obama had promised. However, neither this bill nor any other bills were brought to a vote on the Senate floor, and all expired at the end of the 111th Congress.
Obama did reiterate the goal in his 2011 State of the Union address, saying that by 2035, 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. "Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas,” he said. "To meet this goal, we will need them all.”
But with the advent of the 112th Congress, Republicans took control of the House with a focus on deregulation and an opposition to cap-and-trade programs. Any cap-and-trade bill was dead on arrival in the chamber that had approved it in 2009. And no one expects passage of a cap-and-trade bill in the post-election, or "lame duck,” Congress.
We'll add one slight nuance, however. While Obama has failed to pass legislation to mandate that 25 percent of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025, it's a lot more plausible now than it was in 2008 that the nation could approach that goal without a legislative mandate.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the federal government's office for energy statistics, non-hydropower renewable energy is poised to increase from 2 percent of total generation to 6.7 percent between 2010 and 2025, while hydropower -- a more traditional form of renewable energy than solar or wind -- is set to increase from 10 percent to 14 percent over the same period. That would bring renewable sources to 21 percent by 2025.
It's possible to "distinguish between a policy failure -- an inability to enact a national renewable portfolio standard -- and an empirical target, which can have a momentum of its own,” said Joel Darmstadter, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, an energy and environment think tank.
Another factor that wasn't fully appreciated at the time Obama made the promise was rapid growth in the domestic production of natural gas. Despite environmental concerns about the extraction process known as "fracking,” natural gas is a relatively clean-burning source of electric generation and has taken some of the pressure off the need to turn to new-generation renewable energy sources.
"Low-priced natural gas has blunted the momentum toward the use of renewable energy in the electric-power sector,” said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "When low-priced natural gas displaces coal, it offsets carbon dioxide emissions. Low-priced natural gas is a game-changing phenomenon that was not expected in 2008.”
Still, both the expected growth in renewable energy and the expansion of domestic natural gas production are ultimately side issues when judging Obama's progress on his promise. He said he would enact a law to "require 25 percent of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025,” and he has not done so during his first term. So we're calling it a Promise Broken.
Energy Information Administration, "Annual Energy Outlook 2012," June 25, 2012
Email interview with Joel Darmstadter, senior fellow at Resources for the Future, Oct. 25, 2012
Email interview with Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Oct. 25, 2012
No renewable energy progress in sight
When we last updated this item in June 2009, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives had narrowly passed the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. This legislation required that 20 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. Several other clean energy bills passed through Senate committees in 2009, including a bill that required utilities to obtain 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021. None of these bills, however, were brought to a vote on the Senate floor, and they subsequently expired at the end of the 111th Congress, as did the Waxman-Markey legislation.
Obtaining a significant percentage of energy from renewable sources still remains high on the Democratic agenda. "By 2035, 80 percent of America"s electricity will come from clean energy sources,” said President Obama during his 2011 State of the Union address. "Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all,” he said, including non-renewable sources.
Senators in the current Congress have proposed bills designed to encourage the use of renewable energy. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced a bill that would require utilities to generate 25 percent of power from renewable sources by 2025. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., sponsored the Securing America's Future with Energy and Sustainable Technologies Act, which would do the same. Both bills have been referred to committee but have yet to be voted upon.
With the inauguration of the 112th Congress, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives with a focus on deregulation and an opposition to cap-and-trade programs. Renewable energy does not seem to be high on the House's agenda. Most recently, Republicans in the House of Representatives made significant cuts to the Department of Energy"s renewable energy research programs in the 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, an upcoming spending bill.
Nevertheless, a bipartisan renewable energy bill is at least possible if recent history is any indication. In the fall of 2010, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., put forth a bill that would have required 15 percent of electricity come from renewable sources. In addition, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., supported a similar bill that mixed renewable sources with clean coal and nuclear energy. Neither bill became law, their existence suggests some bipartisan will for a renewable energy provision. In addition, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted down amendments to the 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Act that would have further cut green energy program funding.
We spoke with Dave Hamilton, director of Global Warming and Energy Programs for the Sierra Club. Hamilton expressed skepticism that any major energy legislation would get off the ground in the current Congress. This includes, as Obama expressed in the State of the Union, a mixture of renewable sources and clean coal and nuclear power. "There's no political calculus that works. More efficiency engenders opposition from the gas industry. More gas drives the wind guys out. It's like pushing opposing magnets into a circle,” said Hamilton in an e-mail interview.
"As for the House, the GOP has become downright anti-clean energy. So, much less chance of a straight renewable energy standard,” said Hamilton when asked about the issue of political compromise.
If Democrats could not get this passed when they had control of both houses of Congress, then the chances of doing so now with split government are remote. We therefore rate this promise as Stalled, pending further legislative action.
POLITICO, "House passes climate-change bill,” June 28, 2009.
Waxman-Markey bill, 111th Congress, H.R. 2454, Bill Summary & Status.
POLITICO, "Energizing the Senate cap-and-trade bill,” June 30, 2009.
Remarks by the President in State of Union Address, transcript, January 25, 2011.
Sen. Tom Udall, press release, April 6, 2011.
Reuters, "New Senate Bill Contains 25 Percent Renewable Energy Standard,” March 18, 2011.
The Hill, "House rejects Dem efforts to restore green energy research program,” July 12, 2011.
The New York Times, "Renewable Electricity Standard Bill Stands Alone or Dies, Senate Sponsors Vow,” September 23, 2010.
The New York Times, "Sen. Graham's Plan for Clean-Energy Bill Could Drain RES Support,” September 29, 2010.E-mail interview with Christina Kielich, Department of Energy Press Office
E-mail interview with Dave Hamilton, director of Global Warming and Energy Programs for the Sierra Club.
A Renewable Portfolio Standard by any other name smells as sweet
On the campaign trail, Barack Obama made big promises about expanding the use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.
Specifically, he wanted to create a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring that 25 percent of electricity come from renewable fuels by 2025.
He's making progress.
Buried in the cap-and-trade bill passed by the House on June 26, 2009, is a provision that would require some utility companies to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable resources and electricity savings by 2020. That's a smaller goal than Obama promised on the campaign trail, but the bill also promises big increases in renewable fuel use five years sooner than his initial pledge.
While the legislation does not call the plan a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard, it has the exact same effect: to increase renewable power.
Currently, it's up to the states to adopt a standard; there are 24 states plus the District of Columbia that have RPS policies in place, according to the Energy Department Web site. Yet environmental activists have longed for a national mandate.
Other legislators have introduced similar versions of a national mandate, including Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who wrote a bill that would, like the cap-and-trade legislation, require 20 percent of all energy come from renewables by 2020.
So far, it looks like Obama has laid the groundwork to follow through on this promise, but the debate over the cap-and-trade bill is far from over; the Senate has yet to tackle climate change legislation, so the language could still change. For now we rate this one In the Works.
The Department of Energy, States with Renewable Portfolio Standard s, accessed Sept. 3, 2009
Green Inc, Next Up a Renewable Portfolio Standard , by Kate Gailbraith, Feb. 20, 2009
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Bingaman"s Energy Bill Contains National Renewable Electricity Standard , accessed Sept. 3, 2009