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Biden plans push to enact clean electricity standard

President Joe Biden is making a new effort to enact elements of his climate agenda left out of a slimmed-down bipartisan infrastructure deal, including a clean electricity standard aimed at decarbonising the US power sector by 2035.

Senior White House advisers wrote in a memo seen by the Financial Times that Biden planned to use the budget reconciliation process to enact legislation that would include the clean electricity standard, as well as various tax breaks for clean energy.

The standard would mandate rising targets for electric utilities to produce carbon-free electricity, with 80 per cent of power from clean sources by the end of the decade and 100 per cent by 2035, according to previous plans outlined by the White House.

The move comes as the White House looks for alternative routes to keep its climate agenda alive after Republicans forced it to ditch much of it from a bipartisan infrastructure package.

The president “intends to work with Congress through the budget process to pass additional legislation that will position the US to combat climate change, create good-paying, union jobs, and win the clean energy future”, Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top climate adviser, and Anita Dunn, senior adviser, wrote in the memo.

The $1tn infrastructure plan the president has hammered out with a group of moderate Republican and Democratic senators includes unprecedented federal investment in US railways and bridges, as well as the rollout of a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers and an expansion of high-speed broadband access.

It does not feature a clean electricity standard (CES), a central pillar of the president’s plan to tackle climate change and set the US on a path to net zero by 2050.

The power sector accounts for a quarter of the country’s current carbon emissions. In the absence of other punitive measures targeting polluters, such as a carbon tax, a CES is seen by analysts as the most effective way to drive down emissions in the near term.

The memo, first reported by Axios, also indicated the White House would attempt to use the reconciliation process to implement tax cuts for investments in renewables, battery storage and electric vehicles, another central element of Biden’s climate plan.

The budget reconciliation process allows legislation to be passed with a simple majority vote in the Senate, rather than the 60 votes normally required, meaning the president could enact the measures without Republican support.

However, some analysts have expressed scepticism that a standard can be successfully implemented through the reconciliation process, which is reserved for tax and spending measures.

“Jump-starting private investment and consumer demand through huge tax incentives for clean energy technologies remains the must-pass centerpiece of the president’s climate program, which Democrats will pursue through a reconciliation bill,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Senate finance committee staff member now with the Progressive Policy Institute.

“But the fate of a clean energy standard under that process is more doubtful,” he added.

Others argue it can be crafted in such a way that it will pass this test, possibly by paying incentives for clean electricity. The memo did not give details of how the proposal would be structured.

The White House said there was broad public support for the measure. In the memo, Hill and McCarthy said polling had shown two-thirds of respondents were in favour of government action to move the country to a carbon-free power sector by 2035.

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