One of the lasting legacy items of the Trump Administration came when the bipartisan Energy Act of 2020 was signed into law in December—the nation’s first clean energy innovation package in more than a decade. Our policy and advocacy team held a webinar to take a look back at this incredible accomplishment that was years in the making.
The expert panel used the occasion to examine lessons learned throughout the legislative process and looked forward for ways to build upon that hard-won success.
“It really was a big deal,” explained CRES Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Charles Hernick in his introduction. “I think it created important momentum and a demonstration that bipartisan action is possible in the clean energy space.”
The legislation focused on American innovation and invested in critical research and development that will support wind, solar, hydropower and other forms of renewable energy, encourage U.S. exploration of critical minerals, promote safe and reliable nuclear energy, and advance carbon management and removal.
Josh Mathis, a staff director for the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space & Technology who works with Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), provided insight into last year’s process and Republicans’ hopes moving forward. He estimates about 70 percent of measures in the final legislation were in some way products of his Committee, and that he expects it will continue to play a big role this year.
“The process wasn’t so great initially,” Mathis said, noting that there were significant differences in the House and Senate bills. But, while negotiations were “tedious, and long, and contentious,” he said that “everyone came to the table with good intentions.”
“I do believe that it is something that House Republicans and conservatives can be proud of,” he added. “It is narrow, and targeted ,and all those things that conservatives and Republicans like to talk about, but I think it is big on innovation … I think it is going to continue to be a bigger part of our conference’s messaging and agenda in the energy and climate space going forward.”
He hoped that a more regular, orderly process through legislative hearings, committee action, floor consideration, and real conference committees would create more buy in from both sides of the aisle.
“You get better work product if the process is inclusive and open at the beginning as opposed to the end,” Mathis said. “Unfortunately, I would say we’re not off to a super great start this Congress when it comes to some of the process things—but I am an eternal optimist, so hopefully we can get back on track. I know the desire is there.”
He said Republican leadership is focused on basic research, pointing to the Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act (SALTA), and that there is bipartisan support, particularly due to the nation’s emerging rivalry with China.
“If we’re going to do big things, we need that fundamental research and that basic research in the materials sciences, fusion, nuclear energy, quantum and A.I.,” Mathis explained. “It’s not dissimilar to some of the things you heard Bill Gates talking about recently.”
Amy Farrell, Sr. Vice President of Government & Public Affairs, American Clean Power Association, offered a similar assessment of the legislation.
“We saw it as a major win for American energy consumers, providing more opportunities to receive reliable zero-carbon electricity in our local communities,” Farrell said. “We also appreciated that Congress recognized clean energy’s significant contribution to the economy and role in providing jobs and investments during the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—as you mentioned, it was a banner year for deployment.”
Neal Elliot of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy stressed that there is indeed much more to come, and that the Energy Act was just a down payment.
“The House Science Committee and their counterparts in the Senate have overseen a robust R&D portfolio now for well over three decades, and there is a lot of technology that’s built up,” Elliot said. “Fortunately, the Energy Act begins to move those transitions in to actually looking at bringing those innovations to the market … allowing us to be globally competitive.”
Jeremy Harrell, Policy Managing Director with ClearPath, echoed the sentiment of the other panelists, urging that we must be putting shovels in the ground now, as the technologies are maturing and they’re “not just science projects anymore.”
“We need to deploy what we have now and then bridge the gap; and that’s, frankly, where I see a lot of opportunity for bipartisan support,” Harrell suggested. “A combination of clear, targeted investments to bring technologies to the commercial marketplace, financial incentives that catalyze the first deployment … and regulatory reform set for key benchmarks and get the government out of the way so that we can rapidly deploy these technologies.”
“I really don’t think it should go overlooked what a big a deal this package at the end of the year was,” he stressed. “It is the most significant modernization of our energy statute, our energy laws in 13 years.”
But, Harrell added, “We [still] need to see that type of moonshot goal, which is driving research, development, and demonstration dollars towards something that puts fuel in the ground, that’s viable, and to show that something is commercially ready to be taken by the market.”