Climate Change News

House Democrats Introduce Ambitious Climate Change Plan

Legislation will call for a 100% clean U.S. economy by 2050.

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Democrats in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have released the legislative framework for what they are calling a bold, ambitious, and sweeping plan to achieve the goal of a 100% clean U.S. economy by 2050.

“We’re really treating climate change like the existential emergency that it is,” said committee chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) at an 8 January briefing. He said that the legislation, which grew from a series of congressional hearings, is one of the committee’s top priorities.

“The climate crisis is here, and we can no longer afford to address this issue along the margins,” he said. The 2050 goal would respond to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that stated that limiting global warming this century to 1.5°C would require net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide to be reduced to zero by about 2050.

The legislative framework, which the committee intends to present as draft legislation later this month, defines a clean economy as producing net zero emissions. It directs U.S. federal agencies to use all of their existing authorities to put the country on a flexible path toward meeting that goal.

A Basket Full of Initiatives

“Rather than stipulating which energy sources qualify, the Act takes a technology-neutral approach to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” states the forthcoming Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for Our Nation’s Future Act, also referred to as the CLEAN Future Act.

The bill includes initiatives in many economic sectors to meet the 2050 target. For instance, it proposes a nationwide Clean Electricity Standard that would require all retail electricity suppliers to obtain all of their electricity from clean energy sources by 2050. It also calls for addressing market barriers for emerging technologies.

The bill also targets improving the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings. In addition, it targets vehicle efficiency, directing the Environmental Protection Agency to set tougher greenhouse gas emission standards.

Other aspects of the CLEAN Future Act include a program to reduce emissions from construction materials, an environmental justice component to protect communities from climate change impacts, and an initiative to help workers transition to a clean energy economy. In addition, a proposed National Climate Bank would help to provide financing for low- and zero-emissions energy technologies, climate resiliency, industrial decarbonization, and other needs.

The legislation, which would set a national climate standard of net zero greenhouse gas emissions in each state, also would provide states with flexibility about how they meet or exceed the 2050 goal.

The bill, however, does not include language to put a price on carbon, something that other legislation has sought to do. “There is no explicit price on carbon in our bill because we instead are presenting a comprehensive set of tools to getting our country to net zero emissions without carbon pricing,” Pallone said.

Working with Republicans?

At the briefing, Pallone said that he would welcome working with Republicans on the legislation and incorporating their ideas into the bill. He said that some components of the bill—including aspects related to energy efficiency and carbon sequestration—draw from Republican initiatives.

“But there’s a fundamental problem here, which I’d be crazy not to acknowledge, that most of them are climate deniers. The president, the [Republican] leadership, won’t admit that there’s a human element to the climate disaster that we face. So that’s a huge problem to get them to participate,” he said. Pallone added that he doesn’t know of a single Republican who has agreed to the target of 100% clean energy by 2050.

“What choice do we have? Australia is burning. We can’t just sit here and say, ‘Oh, the Republicans may not like this or the president may not like this.’ We’ve got to keep going and see what we can achieve,” Pallone said.

Compatible with the Green New Deal

Committee member Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said at the briefing that the forthcoming legislation is “compatible” with the aspirational Green New Deal, which also aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as well as promote climate justice and create jobs.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), another committee member, said that he agrees with the philosophy of the Green New Deal. “Our bill deals more with the specifics that may be inherent in the philosophy [of the Green New Deal], but we can’t pass philosophy in the Congress,” he said.

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2020), House Democrats introduce ambitious climate change plan, Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO138496. Published on 09 January 2020.
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