A Push for Action on Renewables

With a cap on carbon dioxide an apparent nonstarter in the Senate these days, some clean energy and climate advocates have shifted their sights to a scaled-back but still ambitious goal: passage of a national renewable electricity standard.

A wind installation in Barnes County, N.D.
NextEra Energy Resources Wind turbines in Barnes County, N.D.

Such a law would require utility companies to produce a set amount of electricity from renewable sources by a certain date, spurring the development of clean sources like wind and solar and probably lowering overall emissions nationally. Perhaps most important, some argue that with a strong push by the president, such a measure could actually clear the high bar for passage of 60 votes in the Senate this fall.

Some Democrats who opposed cap and trade, like Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, have expressed support for a renewable energy mandate. And in a committee vote last year, several Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted in favor of a proposal that would require the nation’s utilities produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2021.

In a statement on Tuesday, one of the measure’s Republican supporters, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas – whose state has ample wind resources, by the way – reiterated his support for the renewable electricity standard, or R.E.S., albeit with an accompanying jab at Democratic attempts to cap emissions.

“I would argue that most Americans believe that in addressing any challenge, it’s necessary to adopt a balanced, pragmatic strategy,” Mr. Brownback said. “In this case, a moderate R.E.S. would be an important step towards a cleaner energy future, but without the job-killing provisions that come with cap and tax.”

Other Republicans, such as Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, have advocated similar proposals.

Clean-energy advocates are lined up to support a mandate and insist that it can clear the Senate.

“Democrats, Republicans, environmental groups, labor unions, and companies across the country all strongly support the R.E.S. because it is essential for creating hundreds of thousands of American jobs, reducing carbon emissions, and increasing American independence from foreign oil,” Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement on Monday.

Nevertheless, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, insists that he lacks the 60 votes necessary to justify inclusion of a renewable electricity standard in the scaled-back energy bill he unveiled on Tuesday.

By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF/NYTimes

A previous version of this post referred to RES, the renewable electricity standard, as the renewable energy standard.

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