3 ways House Dems can fight climate change when sweeping policy is off the table

3 ways House Dems can fight climate change when sweeping policy is off the table
© iStock

In Washington, elections open new chapters with new possibilities. It’s time to look ahead to what the results mean for a variety of policies — from health care to immigration. On climate, we are left with a mixed bag, but also a new opening. A divided Congress makes big, bold action on climate change unlikely. But new leadership in the House should bring new energy to this issue. Even so, bipartisan approaches will need to be built without members like Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloBiden's corporate tax hike is bad for growth — try a carbon tax instead Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women House Democrats call on Republicans to return Marjorie Taylor Greene donation MORE (R-Fla.) and others from the Climate Solutions Caucus who lost on Tuesday.

Even with this mish-mash, there is progress to be had and great urgency to make the most of this new beginning. Here are three areas where the new Congress can and should grab some early wins, while building toward a future political window to enact more comprehensive policy:

First, the new House leadership has already signaled plans to resurrect the select committee on climate change. That, along with new leadership in the Science and Energy and Commerce Committees, provides a venue to hold formal hearings on the latest climate science developments and how to respond.

The House has not held any in-depth hearings on the growing impacts of climate change on American communities since 2010 and the last eight years have produced a rash of new data on impacts to farms, coastal communities and public health that deserves a full airing.

Crucially, we now know that past projections understated the threat. According to the latest UN global climate report (prepared by scientists from the United States and other national governments), the many dire effects of global warming will occur at much lower temperatures than expected, so we must ensure that planetary warming does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Hearings would provide an important forum to educate both the public and the Members themselves about the challenges America and the world face, as well as potential solutions.

Second, the House can champion bills that put wind in the sails of states, cities, businesses and others who want to pursue common sense climate solutions. Top priorities for the Congress should be tax incentives for electric vehicle infrastructure, energy storage and land conservation, as well as additional Department of Energy funding for renewable energy research, development and deployment. Other areas of low-hanging fruit include tackling food waste and smart agriculture.

Such policies would enjoy strong support at the state and local level — from local government, businesses and the public. Nearly 100 U.S. cities have already set 100 percent renewable targets and are collaborating to drive up demand for electric vehicles. Half of all Fortune 500 companies already have at least one climate or clean energy goal in place, and many of America’s largest food companies have set science-based climate commitments.

New climate champions — from faith-based groups to health care companies, universities and more now stand shoulder to shoulder with a rising tide of governors and mayors advocating for common sense solutions through the We Are Still In coalition. And finally, some 70 percent of Americans would like to see a faster transition to renewable energy, and one in five Americans want their next car to be an electric vehicle — making them more popular than SUVs or trucks. Policies to support these technologies would likely have strong bipartisan appeal, and many go hand in hand with much-needed investments in American infrastructure.

Third, the House has a critical role in keeping the debate on carbon pricing alive. By fostering robust, public debate at the federal level, House members can help illuminate the relative costs, benefits and transformational impact of different policy tools — from a regulatory system to a carbon fee, cap and trade, and investment in innovation.

As the dust was still settling on election night,  Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickBiden's corporate tax hike is bad for growth — try a carbon tax instead Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 MORE (R-Pa.), one of the 24 remaining GOP members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, committed to reintroducing a carbon tax bill next year. Democrats, including Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseProgressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (D-R.I.)  in the Senate and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchWray grilled on FBI's handling of Jan. 6 Omar feuds with Jewish Democrats Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' MORE (D-Fla.) in the House, have previously introduced carbon fee proposals and can be expected to do so again. These bills offer good starting points for this debate to play out.

What’s more, recent polls show that 68 percent of Americans support a carbon tax, and national coalitions like the Climate Leadership Council show the widespread, bipartisan support for the idea.

The midterms were far from a verdict on U.S. climate action, but the results do offer a sobering message: sweeping climate policy is unlikely to be in our immediate future. And yet, if we still want to make such policy a reality — and in time to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change — we need to start laying the groundwork now. And that means making the most of the opportunities that a new Congress affords.

Lou Leonard is World Wildlife Fund’s senior vice president for climate change and energy.