Reject the Clean Electricity Standard

A federal Clean Electricity Standard will not deliver reliable low carbon energy to America– innovation will.

By Michael Geary, August 11, 2021

Michael Candelori /

Democrats and environmental groups were disappointed to find no mention of a federal Clean Electricity Standard (CES) in President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan.[i] The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act , if passed will include: $150 billion for “climate resilience” infrastructure, $50 billion for improving cybersecurity and “infrastructure against climate change,” and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle chargers.[ii] But Democrats say it’s not enough and are adamant on establishing a federal CES through the $3.5 billion reconciliation bill. This must be rejected.

The CES, originally introduced by Minnesota Senator Tina Smith,[iii] became part of President Biden’s campaign trail pledge to replace fossil fuels with renewables by 2035.[iv] The CES would be a federal “carrot and the stick” mandate aimed at incrementally reducing carbon emissions until all fossil fuel generators are phased out and replaced by renewables. Thus, houses, buildings, and electric cars would run off electricity generated only by solar, wind, hydroelectricity, and other forms of renewable energy. More than 30 states have some variation of a CES in place as a renewable portfolio standard.[v] Oregon is the latest to enact a CES policy, one that Pam Kiely with the Environmental Defense Fund called “… a model for the kind of bold power sector policy we urgently need at the federal level.”[vi]

Passed by the Oregon Legislature in June and signed into law by Governor Kate Brown, HB 2021 established one of the most aggressive CES plans in the United States: 80% below baseline levels by 2030, 90% by 2035, and 100% by 2040. [vii] To meet its CES goals, Oregon would need to put the majority of its energy usage on what has historically been its strongest renewable resource: hydroelectricity. As its most used renewable source, hydroelectricity accounted for a little less than 40% of Oregon’s electricity usage in 2019.[viii] In comparison, solar and wind only accounted for 5%. It’s plausible to imagine that Oregon would be in a position to lean more on hydroelectricity while tapering its reliance on coal and natural gas. Unfortunately, however, its running out of water.

Years of limited rain and snow mixed with record high summer temperatures have left 82% of Oregon in an extreme drought.[ix] In May, the Bureau of Reclamation shut off the Klamath Lake Canal due to low water levels in order to protect endangered wildlife species like the suckerfish.[x] This had dire consequences, as the canal served as the main water source for the ranchers and farmers in the area around the lake.[xi] The drought’s effect can also be seen in Oregon’s energy usage. From 2012 to 2019, electricity usage from hydroelectricity decreased by 9% while natural gas usage doubled during the same time period.

Oregon’s CES is not a model for the federal government to follow. Our federal government was created to protect the rights of the individual in the face of an overbearing, centralized government. America was founded on the very notion of freedom, but now Democrats are trying to mandate how and when to produce electricity. They are trying to compel a transition to renewables, even as demand grows for stable fossil fuels in states like Oregon.

From Ford’s Model T to Jobs’ iPhone, our country has been the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest innovations. This has not happened by accident– it happens because America is a place where we don’t turn to government to solve our problems. Instead, we allow the private sector to innovate.

For instance, in west Texas, tired of seeing flare gas waste, Brooks Pearce reinvented the upstream stabilizer market. He founded Maze Environmental, a company that reconfigured the equipment, not the process, and is able to produce more oil for his clients while reducing emissions from flare stacks by 100% in 8 hours.[xii] Last week Chevron, the third largest oil company in the United States, announced it is creating a new division called Chevron New Energies. The new venture will focus on investing in carbon capture and hydrogen technology. These are two of the most promising paths to eliminating carbon emissions.[xiii] In Bridge City, Texas, Entergy TX is planning to build a new power plant that will run off natural gas and hydrogen while also creating $1.8 billion of economic activity.[xiv] The list goes on. These innovations don’t happen in government buildings 1,000 miles away. Mandates don’t innovate. We should continue to embrace bottom-up innovation by rejecting the Clean Electricity Standard.

[i] [ii] [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] [viii] [ix] [x] [xi] [xii] [xiii] [xiv]