1 july 2020

House Democrats Have a Climate Plan, And It’s Pretty Damn Good

The comprehensive new report is a blueprint for the future, and a testament to just how far progressives have pushed the climate conversation

By Zoya Teirstein, Politico, July 1, 2020

[This article was originally publische in Grist on June 30.]

On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a report that it has been working on since January 2019. With Republicans in control of the Senate and President Trump in the Oval Office, the policy proposals in the report have no chance of getting enough votes to become law, but that’s not really the point. The 538-page plan is a message in a bottle to Democratic voters: Hang tight, the left has a climate plan.

Let’s hit the rewind button and go back to 2018 — a couple hundred eons ago in coronavirus years, which makes it hard to remember the conditions that started the ball rolling on the Select Committee’s report.

On June 26, 2018, a relatively unknown progressive candidate from the Bronx managed to unseat incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district. That progressive, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, campaigned on the Green New Deal, an economy-wide proposal to achieve emissions reductions and economic equity simultaneously.

At the same time, a group of young climate activists and Bernie Sanders stans called the Sunrise Movement — buoyed by progressive wins in the midterms — were ramping up a grassroots campaign in support of that very plan. The Green New Deal, an idea that had existed in relative obscurity for years before the midterms, burst onto the national stage a week after the November election, when the Sunrise Movement set up camp in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and Ocasio-Cortez, who was attending her freshman orientation on Capitol Hill on that very day, joined them.

The activists had a list of demands, chief among them a request that the new Speaker of the House create a committee on the climate crisis. Pelosi, a first-wave climate hawk herself, had established a similar panel when she was House Speaker from 2007 to 2011, which was disbanded by Republicans when they regained the majority in 2011. She was quick to do it again, and appointed Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and longtime climate advocate, as committee chair. Including Castor, the committee has nine Democrats and six Republicans.

Establishment Democrats would have likely pursued climate policy in the 116th Congress on their own. But added pressure from the progressive wing of their party and a cadre of unyieldingly vocal climate activists, plus some pretty visceral climate change impacts in 2018 and growing concern about rising temperatures among Democratic voters, handed Democrats a mandate to address the crisis.

On Tuesday, the committee unveiled a plan to do just that. The preface notes the inopportune timing of the report, considering the nation is in the midst of both a pandemic and a mass uprising against racial inequity. “Both underscore that there are no foregone conclusions. What we choose to do now shapes the future,” the report says. “What happens next — for racial equality, for public health, for the climate crisis — depends on us.”

The policy targets laid out in the report are a testament to how much the left has moved the Overton window on climate in recent years. The report recommends eliminating emissions from the electricity sector by 2040 and achieving net-zero emissions across the board a decade after that. It suggests that all new vehicles sold in the United States should be electric by the year 2035. It recommends putting a price on carbon and then funneling that money to low- and mid-income households, an emissions reduction tactic that also has some traction on the right.

Most importantly, especially now, the report connects the dots between racial inequity and rising temperatures. Climate change is already impacting low-income communities and people of color. The report includes a long list of policy proposals to alleviate that burden. The list includes allocating funds to decarbonize and retrofit all public housing in the U.S., boosting federal funding for residential solar projects that would help poor communities pay for clean energy, and increasing tax credits and efficiency incentives for developers building affordable housing. Many of the recommendations put forth by the report echo legislation that has already been introduced in Congress. The recommendation to decarbonize public housing, for example, mirrors Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders’ Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, which was introduced in 2019.

The report has garnered praise from climate advocates across the political spectrum. In a statement to Grist, the Sunrise Movement’s legislative manager, Lauren Maunus, said the report is a good start. “We are happy to see the Select Committee’s Action Plan reflect much of the vision for a Green New Deal,” she wrote. “This plan is more ambitious than anything we have seen from Democratic leadership so far, but it still needs to go further to match the full scale of the crisis.”

An effective climate plan hinges on three major pillars, Sam Ricketts, formerly climate director of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign and now a senior policy adviser for Evergreen Action, an organization that provides policymakers with an open-source climate policy platform, told Grist: Create performance standards for each sector of the economy; funnel federal investments into green jobs; and confront environmental racism by addressing climate impacts in frontline and low-income communities. “These pillars are foundational in this House Select Committee climate crisis report,” Ricketts, who was consulted by the committee on policy items multiple times over the past several months, said. “Ultimately, this is a great foundation upon which Congress can begin to act in a comprehensive and ambitious way to confront this climate challenge.” He noted that some of the timelines outlined in the report could be sped up.

The American Conservation Coalition (ACC), a Republican-leaning group that advocates for conservative solutions to climate change, is also supportive of aspects of the report. “There’s elements of it that we agree with and that I think many Republicans could agree on, too,” Quillan Robinson, vice president of government affairs at ACC, told Grist, naming carbon capture and investments in new energy technologies as examples of proposals that could garner bipartisan support. But he noted that the committee’s report was introduced without input from the Republican minority on the committee. “The whole purpose of the committee was to bring Republicans and Democrats together and develop some common ground policies to charter a path forward,” he said. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and nine other Republican members of the House recently backed a climate plan put out by ACC that also calls for net-zero emissions by 2050, a surprising step that indicates Republicans may be amenable to climate proposals that come from their own side.

Ricketts isn’t so sure that the reason why the Republican minority is absent from the report is because it was snubbed by committee Democrats. “The leader of the Republican Party doesn’t just believe that climate change doesn’t exist, he called this pandemic that has killed 120,000-plus Americans a hoax,” Ricketts said. “It’s unfortunate but it is a reality that only one party believes in not only confronting this crisis but that it exists at all.”

Regardless of how the report came together, one thing is clear: Democrats will have a hard time getting its wide-ranging and ambitious policy proposals passed even if they regain a majority in the Senate and put Joe Biden in the White House. Biden’s climate plan as it stands proposes investing a modest $1.7 trillion in clean energy spending. The House climate committee’s report doesn’t put a price tag on its recommendations, but in terms of scope it looks similar to Sanders’ climate plan, which would cost $16 trillion.

Still, some groups think it could go even further. “With less than 10 years to keep warming at below 1.5 degrees C, the plan’s targets for phasing out emissions need to be stronger,”’s associate director of U.S. policy, Natalie Mebane, said in a statement. “Specifically, these plans need to go further on regulating and phasing out fossil fuel production with clear target dates for the elimination of all fossil fuel expansion and subsidies.”

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans are already sharpening their knives. “Democrats’ My Way or the Highway bill is nothing more than a liberal wish list,” Representative Don Young of Alaska tweeted on Tuesday afternoon.


House Democrats’ Climate Plan Embraces Much of Green New Deal, but Not a Ban on Fracking

Critics on the left wanted a faster retreat from fossil fuels. Some Republicans faulted House leaders for failing to forge bipartisan consensus.

Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News,

House Democrats unveiled a sweeping plan for climate action Tuesday that embraces much of the ambition of the Green New Deal, while avoiding the use of the name and steering clear of calls for abrupt bans on fossil fuel development.

Instead, the package of more than 120 pieces of legislation seeks to drive a transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, achieved by reaching into every corner of the U.S. economy with new investments, standards and incentives favoring clean energy, jobs creation, lands protection and environmental justice.

The report drew criticism both from those who want to see a more rapid retreat from fossil fuels, and those who think the Democrats should have sought more common ground with the GOP. While the plan has no chance of coming to fruition in the current Congress, its endorsement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate Democrats sets a marker for what is possible if the Democrats gain control of the government next year.

"To the young people who have urged us to act fearlessly, we have heard you," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, who led development of the 500-page report by the panel's Democrats. Castor and panel member Rep. A. Donald McEachen (D-Va.) are both members of a task force appointed by former vice president Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumed presidential nominee, to advise him and party platform writers on climate policy this summer.

In an indication of how far the Democratic party's center of gravity on climate has moved in two years, the report won some praise from the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which had been critical of Pelosi and skeptical that Castor's committee would have sufficient power.

The plan is "a real sign that young people are changing politics in this country and the establishment is scrambling to catch up," said Lauren Maunus, Sunrise's legislative manager, in a prepared statement. "This plan is more ambitious than anything we have seen from Democratic leadership so far, but it still needs to go further to match the full scale of the crisis."

Although Sunrise didn't get into specifics, other groups on the left said they would have liked to see a ban on fracking, a ban on exports and imports of fossil fuels, and an immediate halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines.

"This climate proposal inexplicably and inexcusably fails to call for a halt to the extraction of fossil fuels," said Mitch Jones, policy director of Food & Water Action. "It is simply not an adequate attempt to deal with the crisis we actually face."

The roadmap, which draws on information gathered in more than 100 hearings by Castor's panel and other House committees, calls for all cars sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2035 and electricity to be net-zero emissions by 2040. The plan calls for massive jobs programs, including a Civilian Conservation Corps, investments in infrastructure and the clean-up of abandoned mines, as well as tax credits to spur more manufacturing of clean energy components domestically.

Attention to the disproportionate effects of climate change and environmental hazards on minority communities is an underlying theme of the report.

The plan would aim a surge of environmental enforcement actions at overburdened communities of color. It would also include enactment of a clean and efficient energy overhaul of the nation's public housing, a $180 billion, 10-year program introduced in Congress late last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the avatar of the Green New Deal.

The report calls for a price on carbon, but asserts that carbon pricings would be insufficient on its own. "Carbon pricing is not a silver bullet," the report said. The report said that low- and moderate-income communities would need to benefit from any carbon pricing policy, and that a carbon market should be paired with policy to "achieve measurable air pollution reductions from facilities located in environmental justice (EJ) communities."

House Democrats also made clear their opposition to political trade-offs that would weaken the hand of those coping with the fallout of global warming damages. For example, the report said Congress should not give liability protection to fossil fuel companies in return for their support of a climate bill. That issue is especially salient nationally, with more than 20 lawsuits underway by state and local governments and others over climate damages, including actions filed in the past week by Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Some critics took aim at the Democrats for putting out a report that no Republican members of the committee had signed onto. Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath Action, a group that is supportive of nuclear energy, carbon capture investments, and other climate action ideas that could win Republican support, said the House majority missed an opportunity for bipartisanship. Powell said the report was "effectively a rewrite of the Green New Deal, leading us further away from real, practical solutions."

But Castor said that she believed that many of the ideas in the report—-including investments in next-generation nuclear technology and carbon removal technology—would have GOP support. But, she said she expected that the Republican members of the climate committee would be producing their own report.

"It would make it a lot easier to make bipartisan progress if our Republican colleagues would accept the imperative of breaking from fossil fuels," added Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), another committee member. "There continues to be a bit of a disconnect here, where they say that they are ready to talk about climate, but the ideas they put on the table revolve around fossil fuel, and the science is quite clear, we've got to make a dramatic break from fossil fuel."

Another committee member, Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), a former energy efficiency entrepreneur and one of several scientists who won office in 2018, said he believes that bipartisanship should not be the goal.

"What we set out to do was to solve the problem as is scientifically necessary," he said. "It is tragic that the answer to that question is not synonymous with what can be done on a bipartisan basis. But our kids, our grandkids do not give a damn about whether it was bipartisan. They care about whether we gave them a planet that is habitable."

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