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.