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US lawmakers reach deal on energy package that could go into spending bill

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US lawmakers reach deal on energy package that could go into spending bill

A bicameral group of U.S. lawmakers has reached a deal on energy innovation provisions that could go into a pending omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government past Dec. 18, sources with environmental and clean energy groups said.

The over 500-page discussion draft, named the Energy Act of 2020, would pull from separate energy innovation bills introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Among other things, the package would expand federal research into carbon capture and utilization, nuclear power and energy storage. It would also require the U.S. Secretary of Interior to set national goals for renewable power production on federal lands, according to a copy of the bill provided by one environmental group.

House and Senate negotiators submitted the energy package for inclusion in an omnibus bill that could be released as early as Dec. 15. Press contacts for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee did not respond to requests for confirmation on the proposal's timing.

According to a summary of the bill provided by a lobbyist, the Energy Act of 2020 would reauthorize the U.S. Department of Energy's nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and commercial application activities, including for an advanced reactor demonstration program.

The bill also requires the U.S. Secretary of Energy to form a program to support the availability of high-assay low-enriched uranium for civilian domestic research and commercial use. Other nuclear provisions include extending and expanding limits on uranium imports from Russia and creating a fusion energy research and development program.

The compromise bill would also support grid modernization research and reauthorize research, development, demonstration and commercial application activities for renewable resources including marine energy and hydropower, geothermal energy, and wind and solar power. The bill reauthorizes the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy for fiscal years 2021 through 2025, preserving an initiative that President Donald Trump repeatedly proposed to defund.

The legislation would also establish a new research and development program for energy storage technologies that includes three demonstration projects and a competitive pilot project grant program. In another boost to clean energy development, the legislation would direct the Secretary of Interior to set national goals for wind, solar and geothermal energy production on federal land by Sept. 1, 2022, and seek to permit at least 25 GW of electricity from wind, solar and geothermal projects by 2025.

Carbon capture was another major focus. The draft bill encourages support for large-scale pilot carbon capture projects, including a commercial-scale demonstration program. Under the bill, the Secretary of Energy must also establish a research, development and deployment program for carbon storage, a large-scale sequestration demonstration program, and an integrated storage program.

Direct air capture of carbon dioxide emissions also received a nod, with the legislation requiring the DOE to award prizes for direct air capture projects that capture more than 50,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.

The bill would require the federal government to establish a critical minerals list and update it every three years. It would compel the Director of National Intelligence to evaluate Chinese investments in mineral investments and make recommendations to the U.S. Interior Department on how to consider the Belt and Road Initiative when setting the critical minerals list. It would also establish new minerals sourcing programs, including a requirement that the U.S. Geological Survey conduct domestic resource assessments of critical minerals and make the information public.

The legislation also incorporated two bills the House recently passed to extend incentives for power production and efficiency projects at hydroelectric facilities, and allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to raise pay for certain employees in order to attract and retain qualified engineers to conduct infrastructure reviews.

The Energy Act of 2020, if passed, would represent the most sweeping energy policy changes approved by Congress in over a decade. But some clean energy advocates were unhappy with the bill, saying it gave too much support to nuclear energy and technologies to lower emissions from fossil fuel-based energy.

"There are positive things in here, but they just don't outweigh the negatives," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This is not how we're going to solve the climate crisis if we keep compromising like this."