Climate Change News

Congressional Task Force Outlines Its Approach to Climate Change

The Green New Deal created space to talk about market-based innovation, investment, and business and defense approaches, says a cochair of the New Democrat Coalition’s Climate Change Task Force.

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The proposed Green New Deal congressional resolution has gained attention and galvanized climate change activists with its aspirational goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and promote justice and equity.

However, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and his three cochairs of the New Democrat Coalition’s Climate Change Task Force say that there are more effective ways, including market and business approaches, to take action against climate change and that the nonbinding resolution is big on ambition but scant on specifics.

The Green New Deal “is incredibly ambitious,” Beyer said at a briefing for reporters on 14 March in Washington, D.C. “It really did change the conversation”—about climate change—“in a really important way. And it created space for us, I think, as New Dems, to talk about market-based innovation, investment, business approaches, defense approaches. So I think we have to be grateful for it even if we can’t sign on to every piece of it.”

Members of the coalition “are looking for practical, actionable solutions, and solutions that we can do in a bipartisan way,” Beyer said. “One of the challenges with the Green New Deal is it is so aspirational that the thought of it somehow passing the Senate and being signed by this president makes no sense at all.”

Beyer was referring to the fact that although Democrats control the House, Republicans control the Senate, and President Donald Trump has stated his intentions to withdraw the United States from the 2016 Paris climate accord and is unlikely to embrace the sweeping scope of the Green New Deal.

Supporting Market-Based Mechanisms and Other Efforts

Beyer spoke about climate change efforts along with task force cochairs Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.), and Susan Wild (D-Pa.). The New Democrat Coalition includes more than 100 Democratic House members who favor pro–economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible policies.

The New Democrat Coalition’s Climate Change Task Force currently consists of 13 Democratic House members. It issued a 6 March mission statement calling climate change “an existential threat” to health, national security, economic prosperity, and the future of humankind and the planet.

The statement says that the best ways to reach the targets of the Paris climate agreement are to use a variety of tools and solutions while transitioning to more sustainable and clean energy.

“We will seek to eliminate barriers to growth for pro-climate businesses, support market based mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, eliminate clean energy inequities in federal policy, boost resilience, energy innovation, and technologies that address climate change, and promote policies that advance energy efficiency as well as help foster business practices that eliminate energy waste,” the statement reads.

Green New Deal “Is a Political Document”

“The Green New Deal is a political document,” Casten said at the briefing. House and Senate versions of the resolution were introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “If we all passed it tomorrow, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference,” he said.

“I think it’s terrific that it has galvanized the conversation and made this urgent because, let’s be honest, we have done far too little relative to the scale of this problem. If the activism around the Green New Deal causes us to act, that is fantastic,” Casten said. “You still have to figure out how to actually get there.”

Members of the task force say that they have some ideas about how to get there and how to add to the growing conversation in Congress about climate change. That conversation includes the Green New Deal resolutions introduced in February, as well as a number of congressional hearings and the establishment by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Practical Measures

House members at the briefing said that they supported a number of practical options to act on climate change but that the task force itself has not yet put out any statements advocating specific measures.

“We want to be picking goals rather than specific technologies,” Beyer said, adding that he is interested in efforts “where we are using market forces to reduce the amount of carbon that we have.”

Beyer said he favors some version of carbon pricing and that he also is “a big fan” of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) measures to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from smokestacks and even from the air.

Casten, too, spoke out for CCUS. “From a scientific perspective, what I find truly scary [is] we may well be out of time. And we haven’t quite dealt with that,” he said, adding, “If that is the case, we don’t have a choice but to also be more aggressive about taking [CO2] out of the atmosphere.”

However, Casten said he also supports other ways to reduce CO2, including a cap-and-trade system to cap emissions and set up a market to trade emission allowances. In addition, he supports removing some regulatory barriers and improving incentives for companies to invest in environmental technologies.

Some of these measures could be win-win solutions no matter where people are on the political spectrum, Casten said.

“If you deny climate change is real, if you think that we are actually better off on a hot planet, but you’re greedy, we’re going to work together,” Casten noted optimistically. He said that investing in some environmental technologies could be profitable, cut costs, and help curb greenhouse gas emissions. “Keep your tinfoil hat on. It’s fun. Let’s just focus on lowering the cost of energy and we’ll get to a good place.”

He added, “If there are a few people who are still stuck in the Jurassic era, as long as there are less than 50 of them in the Senate, we can find a way forward.”

Keeping Nuclear Power on the Table

Rep. Luria noted that nuclear power, which provides about 20% of total electrical output in the United States, is carbon friendly and should be considered as part of the energy mix future. She said, however, that there are economic challenges with nuclear power, including the enormous expense of building nuclear power plants and the current low cost of natural gas.

Luria, who represents a part of coastal Virginia that has major military installations, also said she is concerned about the impacts of climate change on those facilities and on other national defense issues such as the climate-related displacement of people, which could drive potential conflicts in the world.

Expediting the Solution Process

Rep. Wild said that she, like other task force cochairs, favors market approaches that deal with climate change and make good economic sense. However, she added that although the approach to climate change may differ among Democrats, they all have similar goals.

“There is not a member of the Democratic Caucus who is not seriously, seriously concerned about climate change,” she said. “We have no interest in slowing the process down by any means. If anything, we want to expedite the solution process.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Congressional task force outlines its approach to climate change, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO118599. Published on 19 March 2019.
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