A building in New York shows a painting of Pope Francis in anticipation of his visit to the United States.

A building in New York shows a painting of Pope Francis in anticipation of his visit to the United States. Ivan Cholakov/Shutterstock.com

In Anticipation of Pope Francis, Senate Democrats Push Sweeping Energy Plan

Party leaders are unveiling legislation that would include carbon savings and kill big oil tax breaks, though the plan has little chance to move in a GOP-controlled Congress.

Top Sen­ate Demo­crats are try­ing to seize the polit­ic­al of­fens­ive on en­ergy as Pope Fran­cis, who is­sued a de­tailed call to ac­tion on cli­mate change in June, is mak­ing a high-pro­file trip to Wash­ing­ton.

Seni­or law­makers are re­leas­ing a wide-ran­ging en­ergy plan Tues­day that sets a new “car­bon-sav­ings goal” to help tackle cli­mate change, stat­ing that it’s U.S. policy to cut the coun­try’s car­bon emis­sions by at least 2 per­cent an­nu­ally through 2025.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Demo­crat­ic lead­er-in-wait­ing Chuck Schu­mer are among the law­makers sched­uled to join Maria Can­t­well, the top Demo­crat on the Sen­ate’s en­ergy pan­el, at a Tues­day press con­fer­ence to pro­mote the plan. Ron Wyden, the top Demo­crat on the Fin­ance Com­mit­tee, is also slated to be there.

While the plan is little more than a mes­saging ef­fort in a GOP-con­trolled Con­gress, Schu­mer told The New York Times that it could be a tem­plate for le­gis­la­tion that Demo­crats will push if they re­gain Sen­ate con­trol in the 2016 elec­tions.

“A plan that looks something like this is go­ing to be high on the next Con­gress’s agenda,” Schu­mer told the pa­per.

The 437-page plan swipes at the oil in­dustry by nix­ing a suite of tax in­cent­ives for the biggest oil com­pan­ies, like Ex­xon and Shell. It would end write-offs for drilling costs and big com­pan­ies’ abil­ity to claim a luc­rat­ive de­duc­tion on do­mest­ic man­u­fac­tur­ing in­come, among oth­er in­cent­ives.

It also sets new fees for some oil and gas wells, and cur­tails a pro­gram that al­lows roy­alty-free pro­duc­tion in deep Gulf of Mex­ico wa­ters.

Else­where, the bill would cre­ate a new sys­tem of tax in­cent­ives for low-car­bon elec­tri­city and trans­port­a­tion-fuel pro­duc­tion that would stream­line the ex­ist­ing patch­work of cred­its, cre­at­ing a more flex­ible sys­tem that’s based on the level of emis­sions cuts. (It’s sim­il­ar to a green-tax over­haul that then-Sen­ate Fin­ance Chair­man Max Baucus floated in late 2013.)

Demo­crats are also dust­ing off a long­stand­ing plan to man­date more en­ergy sav­ings in the power sys­tem by re­quir­ing that elec­tric and nat­ur­al-gas util­it­ies cut en­ergy use by 20 per­cent by 2030.

As for the 2 per­cent an­nu­al car­bon-cut­ting tar­get, if met, it would en­able at least a 30 per­cent cut from 2005 levels by 2025, giv­en that U.S. emis­sions are already down about 10 per­cent over the last dec­ade. (Al­though, they’ve ticked back upslightly in 2013 and 2014.)

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, in a land­mark cli­mate agree­ment with China last year and in a more re­cent pledge to the United Na­tions, has vowed to re­duce U.S. green­house-gas emis­sions by 26 to 28 per­cent by 2025 com­pared with 2005 levels.

The big bill con­tains a wide ar­ray of oth­er meas­ures in top­ics in­clud­ing cy­ber­se­cur­ity; im­prov­ing en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture, such as nat­ur­al-gas dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems; ini­ti­at­ives to mod­ern­ize the elec­tric grid; boost­ing R&D in­to green­er cars and trucks; and much more.

The meas­ure ar­rives as Demo­crats are bat­tling GOP ef­forts to dis­mantle Pres­id­ent Obama’s cli­mate agenda, es­pe­cially first-time EPA car­bon-emis­sions rules for power plants.

However, the bill does not in­clude cli­mate policies long-sought by en­vir­on­ment­al­ists as well as many Demo­crats that would ex­pli­citly put a price on car­bon emis­sions, either through a car­bon tax or a cap-and-trade sys­tem.

(Top image via Ivan Cholakov / Shutterstock.com)