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Nation & World

How Does The Biden Administration Plan To Reach Its Clean Energy Goal?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden's administration set a big climate goal to zero out greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2035. Last week we talked with EPA Administrator Michael Regan about this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MICHAEL REGAN: We believe that we can set up the right policy instrumentation and regulatory framework to encourage continued innovation to get us to that carbon-neutral goal that we know we can achieve.

INSKEEP: Continued innovation - industry still has to figure some of this out. So what more do we know about how the government is going to encourage it? NPR's Jeff Brady has been following up. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I just want to note, 2035 sounds really distant, and then you start counting - 14 years is not that long when you talk about changing all the power plants in the country.

BRADY: Right.

INSKEEP: How is the administration going to do it?

BRADY: Well, you know, it's getting - the details are getting a little bit clear from the president's budget proposal and groups talking with the administration about this. Details are still being worked out, but a central focus is creating a national clean energy standard. And this would be a countrywide requirement that, over time, increasing amounts of electricity that's generated from fuels that don't emit the greenhouse gases that fossil fuels do. Conrad Schneider at the Clean Air Task Force says it's similar to renewable energy standards that many states have.

CONRAD SCHNEIDER: They essentially require an increasing percentage of electricity sales be from renewable energy. A clean energy standard simply broadens the list of energy resources that are eligible under the standard.

BRADY: So in addition to wind and solar, this national standard would include things like hydropower and nuclear. And another bit of detail here - the Department of Energy likely will create this standard, and that's a little controversial. Some wanted the EPA to do it. It's better known for setting and enforcing standards. But some of the largest environmental groups say what's important is that it gets done.

INSKEEP: OK, so it's important to them to get the standard done. But, of course, once you come up with a standard, you have to enact it and enforce it. There was this standard under President Obama that was held up in courts and never really took effect involving power plants. How would this be any different?

BRADY: Yeah, there's a much more conservative judiciary now. A lot of those conservative justices are skeptical of the executive branch stretching its power under existing laws. They like to see new laws from Congress for new programs. But Democrats have a thin majority in the Senate. The thinking is a national standard might be part of an easier-to-pass budget reconciliation package, probably one that includes that huge infrastructure proposal the president outlined recently.

INSKEEP: You know, Jeff, if I'm concerned about climate change - and anybody, you know, who's in touch with reality there would be, I think, at this point - that would sound pretty hopeful to be carbon-neutral, at least with electricity, in 2035. Is that enough to make a difference, though?

BRADY: Well, you know, it's not. Scientists tell us that, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, humans will have to remove some of that carbon emitted into the atmosphere over the last century. A lot of smart people are working on that. But it's difficult to get to negative carbon emissions without stopping current ones, and that's what this clean energy standard aims to do.

And the pressure is building to take action. Biden is holding a climate summit with world leaders next week. Hundreds of business executives wrote the president, asking him to announce the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030 - that's based on 2005 levels. They say a bold announcement would show the world the U.S. is serious about addressing climate change again.

INSKEEP: OK, Jeff. Thanks very much for the update. Really appreciate it.

BRADY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jeff Brady following up on the Biden administration plans to have carbon-neutral power plants by 2035. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.