2020: A new decade for bold action on climate
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30 years. That’s how long we have left to transform our economy and achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. And to make matters even more immediate, the groundwork that we lay down this new decade will determine whether or not we are able to meet our goal.

As I’ve learned firsthand, concerned citizens in my Brooklyn district and across America are tired of years of inaction by political leaders on climate change. As the vice chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee — the oldest and one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. Congress — I have a unique opportunity to help Congress respond to these widespread concerns and calls for action. This is a position that I do not take lightly.

In particular, I want to find solutions that create new green jobs and protect communities that bear a disproportionate climate burden. From stronger storms and more extreme heat to poor air quality and chemical exposure, low-income communities and communities of color — represented throughout my congressional District — are often hit first and worst by the negative impacts of climate change and environmental pollution, even though these same communities have historically contributed least to these problems. As we work to tackle the crisis, we have the opportunity to invest and build resilience in frontline communities to ensure that past environmental injustices are not continued into the new clean economy.

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Similar sentiments are echoed throughout the Green New Deal, which has made headlines on both sides of the political spectrum this year for the comprehensive and bold vision that it lays out for the future. After talking with my constituents, I was among the first members in the House to support this resolution.

At the same time, it is important to remember that the Green New Deal resolution is a framework for action. If we are going to truly start to tackle the climate crisis this decade, then we must start now by pursuing solutions on the federal level that will transform every sector of our dirty economy into a clean economy that generates green jobs and puts an end to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution. This is often referred to as “decarbonization” because we are decoupling our economy from carbon-based fossil fuels.

My committee is currently working around the clock on legislation to do exactly this, with the overarching goal of reaching a 100 percent clean economy by 2050. Over the past few months we’ve heard from stakeholders across the country to gather input as our draft starts to form—from university professors and environmental justice advocates, to industry and labor representatives. No legislative options are off the table, but only the most effective and equitable will be incorporated.

Recently, I was proud to join over 150 of my colleagues in introducing the 100 Percent Clean Economy Act (H.R.5221), which would officially set a national target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and create a mandate for every federal agency to work toward achieving this goal. This bill has been called the most ambitious climate legislation since the Green New Deal, and would make significant strides towards getting us where we need to be.

Let’s be very clear: mitigating and responding to the impacts of the climate crisis will already be very expensive. And the longer we wait to act, the greater and more expensive these impacts will become. According to a recent nationwide study by the Center for Climate Integrity, U.S. communities are currently facing a combined baseline price-tag of more than $400 billion over the next two decades to protect against rising sea-levels and the threat of flooding.

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This urgent need for bold and transformative action is why I am also supportive of market-based policies that put a price on carbon emissions to incentivize cleaner technologies, such as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R.763). The money that polluters are forced to pay under this policy would then be distributed to every American in the form of a monthly “carbon dividend” check or direct deposit. The lowest-income Americans would see their incomes increase by $292 during the first year alone, all the while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Last, but certainly not least, it is also vital that we continue to work with the international community in this new decade. We should be leading the world on climate, just as we have done on so many other global challenges, not backing away from the single most collaborative effort in international history.

Climate change is a global crisis, and without a seat at the table the U.S. would lose our ability to nudge other nations in the right direction. Far from protecting U.S. companies, leaving the Paris agreement could also make American industries vulnerable to future climate trade tariffs, and weaken the ability of our companies to compete with cleaner products manufactured abroad. This is why I have supported legislation like the Climate Action Now Act (H.R.9), which calls for America to join with the other 196 signatory nations around the globe in upholding our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. That bill passed the House earlier this year and is awaiting action in the Senate, like far too many other bills that we’ve passed so far this session.

Without action, the climate crisis threatens to disrupt every aspect of our lives. My constituents have been through this already when Superstorm Sandy made landfall seven years ago, and far too many people in California experienced it recently with the devastating wildfires. We need bold legislation to address climate change and protect communities on the front lines of the climate crisis. As we begin a new year and a new decade, the time is now for Congress to act. The clock is ticking.

Clarke represents New York’s 9th District and is vice chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.