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Snagged in the Senate?

How Joe Biden's renewable energy plans could affect AM as election results become clearer

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Joseph Biden won the presidency, but the blue wave that could sweep through the country never materialized: the new president is most likely left with a split Congress, which could make renewable energy funding difficult. This network reported on Biden’s renewable energy plans and the knock-on benefits likely to accrue for the additive manufacturing space. A Republican-controlled Senate has the potential to significantly disrupt Biden’s desire to foment a Green New Deal. The president will, of course, have some executive leeway in his approach to climate policy, but that leeway is nowhere near Congress’s ability to authorize massive infrastructure and climate spending. The political equation stands on a knife’s edge, and the AM sector has much to lose (or to gain) as the 117th Congress assembles.

The AM industry’s drive towards increased sustainability of manufacturing processes is becoming clearer, in spite of many challenges that still exist in the use of recycled plastics and in making the entire metal AM workflow – form material production to part optimization, more efficient overall. The technology does have the potential to make products more efficient and reducing their lifetime carbon footprint, especially in aerospace but also, increasingly, in EV automotive. As 3dpbm explored in depth in our recent Sustainability AM Focus 2020 eBook, AM also has a lot to say with respect to the energy mix. However, it should be said that the technology is energy-source-agnostic, presenting as many advantages in fossil fuel generation – by greatly optimizing the entire upstream, midstream downstream and energy generation oil and gas flow – as in renewable energy, by enabling the production of better and more efficient systems to generate energy from wind to marine and solar.

Mitch McConnell, known for being a tough procedural opponent in the Senate, will likely slow or quash attempts to legislate climate and infrastructure funding. The most immediate legislative challenge, American stimulus spending, may foster climate infrastructure spending: McConnell has committed to working on stimulus before Biden’s January inauguration. McConnell’s election in Kentucky saw him admit that climate change is caused by humans. His solution, however, relies on supposed ‘common sense’, which bodes ill for legislative action. The League of Conservation Voters, an organization that tracks congressional voting on climate issues, gives the six-term senator a lifetime score of 7% on climate votes.

McConnell’s voting record is unsurprising: his state, Kentucky, has the third most coal mines in the United States and is the fifth-largest coal producer. Carbon energy is a significant political issue. Kentucky has, however, reduced its energy dependence on coal between 2008 and 2018 by 21%. Coal mining jobs have also decreased in the past decade, with United States coal consumption also falling. These figures suggest that coal, at least as a reason for staunch opposition to fighting climate change, might be receding.

McConnell and Senate Republicans more generally face the prospect of managing this decreasing demand for coal and fossil fuels. The Republican preservationist impulse, as McConnell’s democratic opponent pointed up, is not suited for the times. Acknowledging changing circumstances and managing the regulatory environment for such change better aligns with McConnell’s and Republican senators’ base.

Bipartisan climate policy is, as has been pointed up elsewhere, possible, but only if the sharp partisan divisions that have characterized American politics subside. RepublicEn bridges some of this divide. This Republican not-for-profit promotes an ‘EcoRight’ agenda. Free enterprise, according to the EcoRight, can reduce the impacts of climate change by voluntarily collaborating to produce marketable solutions. This approach has the potential to shift the legislative debate. The current mood in the United States problematizes climate change as a claim to truth; the EcoRight accepts that climate change is a reality, which allows it to take a position on the scope of government involvement in the fight against climate change.

Joe Biden is hailed by many as an agent of bipartisan compromise, which may still be possible in a Republican-controlled Senate. The executive powers that Biden will inherit allow him to regulate emissions and environmental standards without Congressional approval. These powers might give the administration some leverage when negotiating infrastructure and stimulus spending with Congress: the ‘big government’ that Republicans so staunchly resist may be deployed if Republican senators don’t come to the table.

Additive manufacturing, like the environmental movement, has a shot in this political context. Congressional lobbying for a special focus on AM in stimulus allocation is possible. A better move might include AM in policy discussions about renewable energy and economic revitalization. Stratasys has, for example, gone on tour through the industrial Midwest, which this Network suggested was a move to endear AM to a region that saw an outflow of manufacturing jobs in the 1980s. AM’s heavy involvement in COVID-19 initiatives has, moreover, shown that the industry can quickly respond to massive challenges.

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746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Adam Strömbergsson

Adam is a legal researcher and writer with a background in law and literature. Born in Montreal, Canada, he has spent the last decade in Ottawa, Canada, where he has worked in legislative affairs, law, and academia. Adam specializes in his pursuits, most recently in additive manufacturing. He is particularly interested in the coming international and national regulation of additive manufacturing. His past projects include a history of his alma mater, the University of Ottawa. He has also specialized in equity law and its relationship to judicial review. Adam’s current interest in additive manufacturing pairs with his knowledge of historical developments in higher education, copyright and intellectual property protections.

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