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July 24, 2020
Democrats announce ambitious climate change plan

House Democrats revealed a 547-page climate crisis action plan in mid-June that is being billed as “the most ambitious climate change plane to date,” according to Politico.

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The plan was issued by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and is titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.”

The Climate Crisis Action Plan (the Plan) contains hundreds of recommendations grouped into 12 “pillars,” which are:

  • Invest in Infrastructure to Build a Just, Equitable, and Resilient Clean Energy Economy
  • Drive Innovation and Deployment of Clean Energy and Deep Decarbonization Technologies
  • Transform U.S. Industry and Expand Domestic Manufacturing of Clean Energy and Zero-Emission Technologies
  • Break Down Barriers for Clean Energy Technologies
  • Invest in America’s Workers and Build a Fairer Economy
  • Invest in Disproportionately Exposed Communities to Cut Pollution and Advance Environmental Justice
  • Improve Public Health and Manage Climate Risks to Health Infrastructure
  • Invest in American Agriculture for Climate Solutions
  • Make U.S. Communities More Resilient to the Impacts of Climate Change
  • Protect and Restore America’s Lands, Waters, Ocean, and Wildlife
  • Confront Climate Risks to America’s National Security and Restore America’s Leadership on the International Stage
  • Strengthen America’s Core Institutions to Facilitate Climate Action

Specific initiatives proposed within the plan include:

  • Net-zero emissions from automobiles in 2035, the energy sector by 2040, nationwide net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and “net-negative” emissions by 2100—to be achieved mainly by broad changes to federal energy and environmental laws.
  • Creating a focus on environmental justice and advancing environmental justice initiatives calling for legislation that would direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “to consider the cumulative pollution impacts of the facilities it permits” and “support federal and academic research of the cumulative and distributional impacts of federal climate, health, and environmental policy on environmental justice communities.…”
  • An “Energy Efficiency Resource Standard” that addresses increased electricity demand and energy prices.
  • Increased energy tax incentives and grant programs, particularly focused upon energy storage and “equitable access” to clean energy resources for marginalized communities.
  • Programs and incentives for updated building codes requiring net-zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030.
  • “Water infrastructure resilience” standards to address climate change impacts such as flooding, droughts, and erosion.
  • Calls for Congress to invest in “Next Generation 9-1-1” and wireless technology to ensure reliable communications.
  • 70% methane pollution deductions for the oil and gas industry by 2025, with 2012 levels to be used as the comparison point.
  • A call for Congress to “support all stages of climate-related innovation by recommitting to Mission Innovation—a global initiative working to accelerate global clean energy innovation.…”
  • Tax code revisions to repeal “tax breaks for large oil and gas companies” and a carbon pricing mechanism paired with policies that achieve measurable pollution reductions in environmental justice communities.
  • The Plan advocates for Congress to support strengthening union representation and the creation of a National Economic Transition office that would “coordinate, scale up, and target federal economic and workforce development assistance to communities and workers.”
  • Proposes to have Congress direct the U.S. Department of Health to “develop a national strategic action plan to assist communities and health departments in preparing for and responding to climate-related health risks,” increase support for “global surveillance and response to potential health threats,” and additional capacity for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in climate-related endeavors.
  • Investments to encourage farmers and ranchers to “employ climate stewardship practices.”
  • New federal programs for communities, including a National Climate Adaptation Program, to provide technical assistance; a Tribal Government Task Force; and a Climate Risk Information Service. The Plan advises requiring “major government suppliers to disclose greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks to their supply chains and operations as a consideration for the award of federal contracts.”
  • Recommends protecting “at least 30% of all U.S. lands and ocean areas by 2030,” achieving net-zero emissions on public lands and waters by 2040, inflicting a moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases on public lands, and prohibiting “new offshore oil and gas leasing in all areas of the Outer Continental Shelf.”
  • Require climate change considerations in defense procurement and supply chains; require “agencies with national defense, homeland security, and science missions to identify and confront climate security threats; and “deliver on U.S. financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund.”
  • The Plan calls for increased federal support for climate science and expanding the Congressional Budget Office’s capacity “to analyze the fiscal and economic impacts of proposed legislation related to climate risk.”

For complete details, see the Climate Crisis Action Plan.

Political climate

The introduction of the climate change plan by House Democrats sets the stage for an impending political battle with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party in advance of the fall elections. Because the Senate is currently led by the Republican party, the proposals have little chance of making their way into law at this point.

Trump is on record as sticking to fossil fuel initiatives even though scientific studies have shown carbon emissions are one of the main contributors to environmental issues.

In 2017, the latest National Climate Assessment was released, and it’s central findings were that “emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities, are already causing lasting economic damage, and have to be brought rapidly to zero,” according to insideclimatenews.org. In spite of the report being based on “thousands of climate change studies and involving 13 federal agencies,” Trump rejected the findings, and “his cabinet members launched attacks on the report, portraying it as ‘alarmist’ and clinging to Trump's agenda of fossil fuel energy expansion that the science says is at the root of the problem.”

Democrats are prepared for battle. “It will be a fight as long as it needs to be,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as reported in Politico. “We will turn this report into law, saving the planet. Democrats know that the climate crisis is the essential crisis of our time.”

And, more Americans than ever before are demanding “aggressive action on renewable energy and climate change,” according to a June 24, 2020, report in cleantechnica.com about the latest Pew Research Poll.

Background

On June 26, 2018, progressive candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District, running on a platform of the Green New Deal, “an economy-wide proposal to achieve emissions reductions and economic equity simultaneously,” according to an article published in Rolling Stone on July 1, 2020.

About the same time, the Sunrise Movement—a group of young climate activists—began a movement dedicated to “building an army of young people to create millions of good jobs and stop climate change in the process.” Sunrise Movement members were also supportive of The Green New Deal plan. The group’s members parked themselves in Pelosi’s office and were joined by Ocasio-Cortez, who was attending her freshman congressional orientation session in D.C., according to Rolling Stone.

Their list of demands included the creation of a climate change committee, to which Pelosi quickly agreed, having previously established a similar committee during her prior term as House Speaker from 2007–2011. Republicans dismantled that committee when they took over the House in 2011. Pelosi appointed Kathy Castor (D-Florida) to head the 15-member committee comprising 8 other Democrats and 6 Republicans.

Marginalized communities and racial tension

The report “connects the dots between racial inequity and rising temperatures,” according to Rolling Stone, and makes several points regarding the impact climate change is already having on “low-income communities and people of color.” It contains several proposals to alleviate these issues. Some of those proposals include “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,” as reported in Rolling Stone.

Decarbonizing public housing was previously introduced in Bernie Sanders’ and Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal for Public Housing Act in 2019. Many activists are pleased with the Climate Crisis Action Plan and believe many parts of it reintroduce proposals that were within the Green New Deal.

Support for the Plan

“We are happy to see the Select Committee’s Action Plan reflect much of the vision for a Green New Deal,” Lauren Maunus, the Sunrise Movement’s legislative manager, wrote in a statement to Grist magazine. “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.”

Sam Ricketts, senior policy adviser for Evergreen Action, told Grist that successful climate change plans must have “three major pillars”: Establish “performance standards” for every economic sector; provide federal incentives and funds for “green jobs”; and oppose “environmental racism” by correcting “climate impacts in frontline and low-income communities.”

“These pillars are foundational in this House Select Committee climate crisis report,” said Ricketts, who was consulted by the committee on policy items multiple times over the past several months. “Ultimately, this is a great foundation upon which Congress can begin to act in a comprehensive and ambitious way to confront this climate challenge.”

Ricketts said he would prefer some of the timelines in the plan to be moved up. On Evergreen Action’s website, the organization’s Action Plan states, “The next President and Congress must launch a national mobilization at the scope and speed necessary to defeat the climate crisis, and create millions of good-paying union jobs building a more just, sustainable and inclusive clean energy economy. We have a short period of time to act.”

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, agrees. “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe,” according to Birol as quoted in a June 18, 2020, article in The Guardian. The article refers to Birol as “one of the world’s foremost energy experts.”

The American Conservation Coalition (ACC), another young activist group, also supports some parts of the newly introduced Climate Change Action Plan, according to Grist. “There’s elements of it that we agree with and that I think many Republicans could agree on, too,” said Quillan Robinson, vice president of government affairs at the ACC. He named investing in new technology for energy and carbon capture technology as bipartisan examples. “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.

The ACC recently produced a climate plan calling for net-zero emissions by 2050 that received support from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and nine other Republican members of the House. This action by Republicans seems to indicate there may be some support across the aisle for climate change initiatives.

Prepare for a fight

The items put forth in the proposal will be difficult to implement, even if Joe Biden is successful in his presidential bid. Although the Democrats’ Climate Crisis Action Plan does not include a cost estimate, it is similar to Sanders’ plan, which had an estimated price tag of $16 trillion.

And, there are some groups who believe the Plan does not go far enough. “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,” 350.org’s associate director of U.S. policy, Natalie Mebane, said in a statement to Grist. “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.”

Republicans are warming up for the battle to come. “Democrats’ My Way or the Highway bill is nothing more than a liberal wish list,” Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) tweeted in response to the published Climate Crisis Action Report.

Lisa Whitley Coleman

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