The White House hopes to capitalize on growing support from US utilities, unions and green groups for a national clean energy mandate by backing efforts to require the US grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources by 2030, according to a senior administration official.
A 2030 target would be a milestone on the way to achieving President Joe Biden's stated ambition of net-zero carbon emissions in the grid by 2035. It could also potentially be passed without Republican support through a process called budget reconciliation.
"Our goal is to enact this into law," deputy White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi told Reuters, speaking of the administration's push for a so-called clean energy standard (CES) to decarbonize the power sector.
The latter would require reductions in emissions by adopting renewables like wind and solar, using nuclear energy or finding ways to suck up and sequester greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel plants.
"There are multiple pathways to get meaningful progress in the power sector," Zaidi said. "We think this is a really powerful one in terms of giving utilities a clear and clean planning horizon."
Requiring utilities to move away from coal and natural gas is a cornerstone of US President Joe Biden's plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half across the US economy in the next decade.
Many utilities already have plans to remove carbon from their systems due to investor pressure or state mandates, so they broadly support the policy. They are concerned, however, those technological breakthroughs needed to reach zero emissions may not materialize in time to meet a 2035 timeline.
In a statement, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said the administration's 2035 goal was "overly ambitious."
This month, however, 13 major utilities sent a letter to Biden in support of a power sector goal that would cut emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The country's grid is currently just 40% clean, but getting to 80% by 2030 can be achieved with existing technologies at no additional cost to ratepayers in every region because the cost of renewables and batteries have come down so much, according to a new analysis by researchers at Energy Innovation and the University of California, Berkeley.
The policy has support from members of both parties in Congress, though Republicans have not embraced the administration's aggressive timeline due to concerns that it will drive up costs and kill jobs in fossil fuel industries.
Democrats could pass a CES with a simple majority as a revision of budget legislation if the CES sets a 2030 target, since reconciliation measures must fall within a 10-year window.
The Senate is currently divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, but Democrats have control because Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie. Legislation outside of the reconciliation process would need 60 votes to bypass a potential Republican procedural move known as a filibuster.
The White House is weighing various legislative options and speaking to lawmakers in both parties.