Clean Energy, Cybersecurity, Western Water, Wildfire Prevention Investments Receive $100 Billion Boost in New Energy Infrastructure Package

Cantwell authored provisions, amendments would support billions in urgently needed Pacific Northwest water and power resource investments. Package heads to Senate floor and will likely be incorporated into the upcoming Senate floor debate on a larger trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure proposal.

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) voted in support of a $100 billion legislative package approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee 13 to 7 after a day-long debate. The package includes numerous Cantwell-authored provisions, including measures which would help modernize and expand the electricity grid and maintain affordable emissions-free electricity supplies. Other components championed by Cantwell would bolster cybersecurity defenses, create a new water storage program focused on recharging aquifers, and boost funding for wildfire prevention.

One bipartisan amendment, led by Cantwell, would raise the borrowing authority of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) by $10 billion in order to allow BPA to continue to borrow at low-interest rates at no ultimate cost to the taxpayer. Bonneville’s generating and transmission portfolio consists primarily of emissions-free sources and is the backbone of an electricity system that is relied on by tens of millions of people throughout the Western United States. BPA’s current long-term capital plan projects borrowing approximately $19.9 billion in federal bonds over the next 20 years in order to maintain the Federal Columbia River Power System’s aging infrastructure, but only $600 million of borrowing authority remained at the end of fiscal year 2020. The Cantwell amendment links expanded borrowing authority to new financial oversight requirements and avenues for stakeholder engagement.

Cantwell also partnered with Senator James Risch (R-ID) to authorize over a billion dollars to upgrade transmission capacity between Canada and the Western and Southwestern United States in order to increase access to on-demand clean energy, improve water management and energy storage to improve flood control and benefit local farmers and ratepayers, and better coordinate water and power flows between British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest which could generates tens of millions of savings annually.

“Much of the water that flows through the mighty Columbia starts in Canada but way too much of the electricity generated in the United States is then provided back to British Columbia, costing regional ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” said Senator Cantwell. “This amendment would create a number of initiatives to improve transmission between Canada and the Western and Southwestern United States in order to increase on demand and clean electricity supplies.”

The bill approved yesterday also incorporated legislation from two bills that Cantwell introduced in 2019 to boost clean energy workforce training and grid modernization. During the business meeting, Cantwell spoke in support of her proposal to bolster workforce training programs and increase high-wage energy and cybersecurity jobs.

“If people haven't figured it out, our grid is a major, major attack point now with state actors. We have got to train and skill a workforce on the transmission cybersecurity needs of the future,” said Senator Cantwell. “This amendment says let's just get the right expertise so that we can move faster on getting the curriculum development by listening to the private sector tell us what are their workforce needs of the future.”

At the business meeting, Senator Cantwell also advocated for amendments that would help states prepare, fight, and recover from wildfires. If passed, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s energy package would include provisions authorizing billions more for wildfire prevention and protection.

“We've seen throughout the nation and the Pacific Northwest, specifically, how fast the fire season is really upon us. And this proposal by Senator Wyden would push up the time tested wildfire reduction programs at the US Forest Service and Department of Interior,” Senator Cantwell said. “This I can't emphasize enough, we're not even in the season yet in my state says we're well, well ahead of where we've been in the past so everyone is bracing and I would encourage my colleagues to support this.”

According to the United States Forest Service, 3.1 million acres of USFS land within Washington state is at high or very high risk of wildfires that are difficult to contain. That figure jumps to 7 million acres at high or very high risk of wildfires that are difficult to contain when calculated across all forest land in Washington state.

The 2021 wildfire season has been one of the worst in more than two decades. According to the most recent Incident Management Situation Report from the National Interagency Coordination Center, this year's wildfires have already burned 2,221,835 acres throughout the United States. The fires have killed dozens of Americans, destroyed thousands of structures, and displaced thousands. In Washington state, there have been 630 wildfires in 2021 so far, which is almost double the ten-year average.

A section-by-section summary of the underlying bill is available HERE

A full transcript of Senator Cantwell’s remarks is available HERE.

Audio from today’s business meeting is available HERE and HERE.

Video from today’s business meeting is available HERE and HERE.