By Anthony Lucivero, Advocacy Fellow
The S.2012 Energy Policy Modernization Act (EPMA) was passed by a definitive 85-12 vote in the U.S. Senate on April 20th, 2016. The act represents a major step forward in bipartisan action at the Federal level towards addressing energy and environmental issues.
How did this happen? The bill avoided any highly controversial topics which usually divide the Senate, such as climate change (!) and fossil fuel exploration, and instead focused on promoting renewable energy development, energy efficiency of buildings, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. If the Senate and House work together on a compromise between their two versions of this bill, it will be the first time since the George W. Bush administration that an energy package has been sent to the President's office for signing.
The bill is requiring electricity operators to modernize the power grid with energy storage systems for the ever-growing production of renewable energy. The bill also includes several programs to improve building energy efficiency, such as increasing the maximum length of time from 10 to 25 years for federal utility savings contracts, allowing for a longer payback period to upgrade government buildings. The 2.5% annual reduction in energy use for government buildings from 2016 to 2025 is formalized by this bill. Cyberattacks on the power grid are also a priority and initiatives to strengthen the safeguards against such attacks are included. National parks and wilderness areas have also gotten attention with the authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
On the downside, the bill does facilitate the exporting of American natural gas by accelerating the approval of permits for coastal gas terminals, and does not change the immense subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. The bill has left some environmental groups disappointed. Jason Kowalski, the policy director for 350.org has stated that the policy is outdated, “tolerable in the ’80s or ’90s, but not in tune with the scientific realities of 2016.”
Hopefully this bill is seen as a landmark of bipartisanship cooperation, and we can expect stronger action in addressing climate change through our domestic energy policies.