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US lawmakers take new look at national clean energy standard

Amid the push for a Green New Deal, lawmakers in the U.S. Senate are re-evaluating a potential national clean energy standard after similar proposals stalled in Congress years ago.

But the discussions are in their early days, with lawmakers still looking at possible targets and the types of resources that would qualify.

"We are starting to talk more about a clean energy standard again," Kellie Donnelly, chief counsel for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said at a March 20 policy forum hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy, or ACORE, in Washington, D.C. "And I think it absolutely will be ripe as a conversation."

Such a program, however, would be "pretty complicated," she said. In addition to determining timetables, targets and eligible technologies, lawmakers would need to decide which federal agency would run the program, whether the proposal would involve renewable credit trading, and how the standard would interact with state policies.

The Senate last voted on a proposed national clean energy standard in 2012. That measure, which called for 25% of U.S. electricity to come from renewable resources by 2025, was introduced as an amendment to a separate bill and defeated in a 45 to 53 vote.

Previously, former President Barack Obama in 2011 called for an 80%-by-2035 national clean energy standard. Although lawmakers never reached an agreement to advance that proposal, "this is a different Congress [and] these are different members," Donnelly said.

"I think that is something that the energy committee will consider," she said. "I'm sure members will be talking about it at our next climate change hearing when we schedule that for April."

A clean energy standard likely would be just one in a wave of policies lawmakers consider as many Democrats promote a resolution to form a Green New Deal. One thing the resolution calls for is a "10-year national mobilization" to transition the U.S. fully to "clean, renewable and zero-emission energy resources."

Many policymakers and energy industry members consider the resolution an aspirational document rather than hard-set policy. And its sponsors — U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. — have emphasized that committees of jurisdiction in Congress ultimately would need to approve any legislation to achieve its goals.

At the ACORE conference, Markey's legislative director, Morgan Gray, said the senator plans to introduce a clean energy standard proposal again this Congress. Gray noted that in 2007, 32 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives backed a proposed national standard.

"Hopefully we can get back to a place where Republicans could support that sort of thing again," he said.