As Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy, Maria has championed smarter energy policies that harness economic opportunities in clean energy to diversify America’s energy sources, grow the clean energy economy and lower costs for consumers. Maria is a Senate leader on supporting cutting-edge biofuels research and expanding clean energy tax incentives that have helped spur industry investment in clean energy jobs in Washington state and around the country. Maria led the passage of legislation to create a modern, efficient national electricity grid, and she worked to pass landmark climate legislation. Maria has long worked to protect consumers from volatile energy prices and market manipulation—leading efforts to protect Northwest consumers from Enron during the Western Energy Crisis in the early 2000s.

Maria has long been supportive of clean energy tax incentives to help support job creation and accelerate economic growth in Washington state and across the country. In the 110th Congress, Maria spearheaded an intensive 16-month bipartisan fight to enact a landmark clean energy tax credit package that passed the Senate with the support of 93 Senators. The package, signed into law in 2008, included an array of critical incentives, offering companies, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs the certainty and stability they need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy and empowering homeowners to generate and save their own energy. 

To help promote and maintain strong growth in the clean energy sector, Maria fought to extend a vital job-creating program known as the Treasury Grant Program. Although the Treasury Grant Program was set to expire in December 2010, Maria reached across the aisle to secure a two year extension of this critical program and teamed up with Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) to expand eligibility to public power entities. Maria led a broad coalition to persuade Senate leadership to include a one year extension of the Treasury Grant Program in the historic tax package approved by Congress in December 2010.

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Maria has been a national leader on developing advanced biofuels that can be grown, processed and used by vehicles and airplanes in Washington state. More than five years ago, Maria convened the Biofuels Business Collaborative—a group of Washington businesses, farmers, investors, and fuel consumers—to build the foundation for biofuel development. Today, that vision is becoming a reality – with Alaska Airlines taking its first commercial passenger biofuel-powered flights out of Seattle and Portland, Oregon, on November 9, 2011. In May 2011 Maria introduced legislation to extend the length of contracts between the Department of Defense and biofuel producers from the current limit of 5 years to 15 years. Allowing for longer-term contracts with the largest single consumer of energy in the country would help companies in Washington state to obtain the financing they need to grow their operations. Maria worked with officials from the Port of Grays Harbor and representatives from Imperium Renewables in 2006 to develop one of the nation’s largest biodiesel plants at the Port of Grays Harbor. Maria also helped broker a 2005 landmark agreement for the Port of Seattle and SSA Marine, the world's largest privately held cargo terminal operator and cargo handling company, to convert its entire vehicle fleet to run on Washington-produced biodiesel.

Maria has repeatedly led efforts to extend financial incentives to companies that transition to biofuels through a biodiesel production tax credit. In 2011, Maria introduced bipartisan legislation to extend this credit through 2014, supporting Washington’s biofuel industry and the transition to cleaner, more sustainable fuels. Between 2004 and 2008 this biodiesel tax credit helped biofuel production grow from 25 million gallons to 690 million gallons and supported thousands of biofuel jobs across Washington state. 

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In December 2009, Maria partnered with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) to introduce a breakthrough, bipartisan energy and climate legislation that uses a simple, market-based system to spur clean-energy job growth, protect Americans from energy price increases and achieve a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

The Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act “cap-and-dividend” framework harnesses American innovation and enterprise to create job and spur new technologies.  The CLEAR Act implements an auction process for fossil fuel producers and importers to bid for “carbon shares,” or permits, for every ton of fossil carbon sold into the U.S. economy. This framework regulates carbon emissions where it is most manageable – "upstream" where it is produced by a few thousand entities, as opposed to downstream where it is emitted by tens of thousands. The “cap-and-dividend” structure provides fairness to consumers through monthly dividends and safeguards low- and middle-income households from energy rate increases by refunding program revenues to consumers.

The CLEAR Act also establishes a clear, predictable and economy-wide price on carbon that will accelerate the nation’s urgently needed transition to a clean energy economy and help prevent Wall Street speculators from manipulating prices for consumers.  

“We are leading a bipartisan effort to put a lid on carbon pollution and in so doing unleash a massive investment in clean-energy technology. If we can tackle this issue in a predictable, transparent and free-market way, we can create millions of high-paying jobs while limiting the worst effects of climate change and reducing both our dependence on foreign oil and the risk of another oil spill.” – Senator Maria Cantwell and Senator Susan Collins, 5/18/2010

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From her very first days in office, Maria fought to get justice for Northwest ratepayers impacted by the Western energy crisis and shine light on Enron’s attempts to steal millions from consumers. Working alongside the Snohomish Public Utility District (PUD) for nearly half a decade, Maria fought to expose Enron’s schemes and provide relief for Northwest ratepayers.

Maria secured a provision in the 2005 Energy bill that prevented a bankruptcy court from forcing Snohomish PUD and its customers to pay millions of dollars in termination fees for electricity that was never delivered. The amendment reaffirmed the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to decide whether charges related to manipulated power contracts should be enforced. The FERC exercised this authority in June 2006 when it ruled that Snohomish PUD did not have to pay $122 million to Enron for power the bankrupt energy trader never even delivered. 

Maria also helped author provisions in the 2005 Energy Bill that made it a crime to manipulate electricity or natural gas markets. As of April 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has used the law to conduct 199 investigations resulting in 61 settlements and civil penalties of more than $300 million and disgorgement of profits totaling $155 million.

Maria’s legislation guaranteed vital consumer protections for Northwest consumers, ultimately ensuring that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could stop Enron from further fleecing the wallets of Northwest businesses and consumers.

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