Jan 13, 2021 • 1HR 17M

Voltscast: How to decarbonize the electricity sector through budget reconciliation

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
Episode details

Greetings, peoples of the Volts! I’ve got a special treat for you today. It’s not my first podcast, exactly, but it’s my first Official Podcast, with music and fancy-pants guests and everything.

My guests are:

Our subject? How to pass a national clean energy standard through budget reconciliation.

If those words mean nothing to you, I recommend reading my previous post, about the Georgia Senate wins and what they mean for clean-energy policy. But I’ll run through some quick background.


Dr. Leah Stokes & Sam Ricketts.
Dr. Leah Stokes & Sam Ricketts.

Biden may need to squeeze his signature climate plan through a budget bill

One of the most important elements of Joe Biden’s climate plan — arguably the centerpiece — is a national clean energy standard (CES) that would require the electricity sector to steadily decarbonize until it reaches net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.

This is important not just because the electricity sector is responsible for about a third of emissions, but because a lot of other emitting sectors like transportation and heating are going to shift to electricity in coming years, driving up demand. It’s important to have clean electricity for them to use.

While Biden does have a Democratic Congress, his majority in the Senate remains slim and the filibuster is likely to remain in place, which means a big climate bill is unlikely. Any big bill at all is unlikely.

Probably the only thing that will pass Congress is what’s called a budget reconciliation bill, which can not be filibustered and thus can get by with a simple majority.

The only things allowed in a reconciliation bill are budget-relevant items, i.e., measures that raise or lower government revenue. Biden’s CES is a purely regulatory measure — it just changes the rules. It probably couldn’t get through reconciliation.

However! Could a CES be tweaked or modified or redesigned in some way so that it is budget relevant and could pass through reconciliation? Could Biden pass his top climate priority after all?

That is precisely what Leah and Sam have been working on, and that’s what we discuss, at some length, in today’s podcast.

It’s way more interesting than it sounds! (That may be my new tag line.)

Bonus Mabel

Life is a donut, y’all. Grab onto it with all your fearsome teeth.

Nom. (Photo: Jennifer Roberts)
Nom. (Photo: Jennifer Roberts)