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Climate bill talks in ‘good place,’ Whitehouse says

Lobbying initiative underway for climate action

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Whitehouse said he and his Senate colleagues are “in a good place” to finalize a set of bills to carry out some of Democrats’ climate ambitions that Republican lawmakers and moderate Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., will support.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Whitehouse said he and his Senate colleagues are “in a good place” to finalize a set of bills to carry out some of Democrats’ climate ambitions that Republican lawmakers and moderate Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., will support. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lawmakers are making headway on bipartisan support for an energy and climate legislative package, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Wednesday, as companies head to the Hill for a two-day lobbying spree for carbon-free energy tax credits and other green provisions.

During a media briefing with sustainability nonprofit Ceres, Whitehouse said he and his Senate colleagues are “in a good place” to finalize a set of bills to carry out some of Democrats’ climate ambitions that Republican lawmakers and moderate Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., will support.

Among the bills is an updated measure that would place tariffs on the imports of major energy-intensive goods, including iron, steel, aluminum, cement, fossil fuels and petrochemicals, the Rhode Island Democrat said. The legislation appears to be similar to previous measures (S 2378 and HR 4534), though Whitehouse did not specifically mention those bills. 

Legislative text is expected to be ready within the next two weeks, he added.

“There has been very good bipartisan discussion about carbon border adjustment, and I think it’s an avenue to make a big step forward,” Whitehouse said of the tariff proposal.

Senators on both sides of the aisle have been in discussions in recent weeks to move forward on at least some components from the climate and social reconciliation package (HR 5376) that was thwarted by Manchin’s opposition over costs. Senate Democrats want to pass a legislative package to add and extend tax credits for clean energy and other provisions to reduce emissions before the August recess.

Whitehouse said the bipartisan discussions have been helpful to get Manchin and others on board with passing climate and energy-related provisions, including a broad array of Senate Finance Committee-approved tax measures and a methane fee “reboot” that Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., negotiated.

Manchin “may feel comfortable about voting for a reconciliation package with a carbon border adjustment in it if he’s had robust conversation with a lot of Republican colleagues about how that should be structured and that it reflects that there is a sense that it’s a good idea,” Whitehouse said. “They’re not going to want to vote for reconciliation because it’s inherently a partisan thing, but there is information and sentiment and knowledge that goes back and forth between those different tracks.”

“As long as the tracks don’t get confused, I think we’re in reasonably good shape, and as long as the bipartisan effort isn’t used to handicap or even kneecap the reconciliation effort, then it’s all to the good,” Whitehouse added.

Clean-energy lobbying

Whitehouse’s comments come as more than 100 companies and investors including Adobe Inc., HP Inc., Nike Inc., State Street Global Advisors and Trillium Asset Management flock to the Capitol to advocate for passing federal climate policies.

The participants say they have 90 meetings with members of Congress and their offices scheduled through Thursday as part of Ceres’ LEAD on Climate, an advocacy and outreach initiative, to discuss their support for clean energy, transportation, infrastructure and advanced manufacturing investments.

For utilities and energy companies, such legislation could affect plans for building gigawatts of carbon-free energy and whether they can avoid passing some costs onto customers, including corporations that pledge to slash their emissions.

“Our capital investment plan is not dependent on changes in federal policy,” said Bob Frenzel, CEO of Xcel Energy Inc., a Minnesota-based utility that serves nearly 6 million customers in eight states. “However, the energy provisions that were included in the Build Back Better legislation would provide substantial customer benefits and help enable our clean energy transition while keeping our customer bills affordable.”

The business case for such legislation is that not only would it help their companies’ bottom line, but it could ward off investors concerned with environmental, social and governance issues that have brought forward shareholder proposals on climate matters.

“While our long-term targets are essential, and while this needs to be a decade of action, there’s urgency right now. There’s a connection between decarbonisation and the right to healthier, cleaner air for everyone,” Siemens U.S. CEO Barbara Humpton said during the Ceres briefing. “And we shouldn’t lose sight of that in deploying the technologies that are available to us.”

Last month, dozens of companies and business associations called on lawmakers to pass an infrastructure package focused on “fiscally responsible clean energy investments.” At the top of the list, the companies want Congress to expand tax credits for utility-scale wind and solar as well as create and grow credits for other carbon-free resources and technologies, such as transmission, energy storage, carbon sequestration, nuclear and hydrogen.

The companies also called on Congress to spur investments in domestic supply chains and manufacturing, and pass incentives that would benefit consumers more directly, including tax credits for electric vehicles and investments for residential solar and energy efficiency in low-income communities.

Additional legislation is warranted, the companies said, to build off of the initial grid investments from the infrastructure law enacted last year and ensure the country’s global competitiveness.

“Bipartisan solution, of course, is wonderful,” said Ralph Izzo, CEO of New Jersey-based Public Service Enterprise Group. “You want whatever solution you have to be sustainable and durable. Having said that, I think that whatever solution we get, the planet will make sure it’s durable because the evidence of climate change is going to continue to mount.”

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