Energy & Environment

Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change

Centrist Democrats are pushing back on the fast-paced approach to climate change legislation preferred by Green New Deal supporters, arguing instead for a more gradual manner that they think will have a stronger chance of passing and reaching across the aisle.

The press by members of the New Democrat Coalition and other high-ranking lawmakers illustrates two competing views within the caucus: immediate, innovative bills versus those who prefer slow, incremental legislating.

{mosads}“The move is going to be gradual and we’re not going to do 100 percent [renewable energy] over 10 years,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a leader of the New Democrat Coalition’s climate change task force, told reporters last week when asked what kind of legislation the group would pursue.

It’s a very different message than the one that came from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who both introduced the Green New Deal resolution in February.

Ocasio-Cortez called it a “comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice,” while Markey referred to the resolution as a time for the party to be “bold once again.”

The party division is likely to slow work by Democrats on climate change, and advocacy groups are growing frustrated by the inaction almost three months into the new House Democratic majority.

Meanwhile, Republicans are eager to exploit the intraparty division with a Senate vote on the Green New Deal expected next week. The progressive plan, backed to some extent by every Democratic presidential hopeful in the Senate, calls for transitioning the U.S. to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Speaking to reporters last week, members of the new New Democrat Coalition’s task force on climate change laid out their plans to introduce what they branded realistic climate change initiatives.

{mossecondads}“The Green New Deal is aspirational, but what we plan to do is offer tangible achievable things, not just a resolution,” Luria said. “The entire plan of the task force is to find ways to attack this incrementally.”

The lawmakers argued it’s better to take the time to draft complete, heavily vetted legislation with a clear focus than to charge forward with a bill that might have holes.

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) praised “the amount of energy” the Green New Deal has inspired but said “doing energy and environmental policy right really requires making sure you get the expertise of the folks who have been down in the trenches.”

It’s a timeline that can’t be rushed, he added, pointing to the Clean Air Act of 1963, which he said was created “without a full understanding” of the science and was an exercise he didn’t want to see repeated.

Some of the Clean Air Act’s key components were added as amendments in 1970 and 1990.

“You still have to figure out how to actually get there, and you have to figure out how to get there with policies that work in the context of what we have,” he said of drafting a climate bill that takes into consideration federal policies and markets.

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) echoed similar remarks Thursday while rolling out his nine-point framework for climate action, which includes setting targets for greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 and ensuring clean energy industries continue to emerge in the U.S.

“Ten years have passed since we last controlled the House. We want to take the lessons learned, dynamics that have changed, and want to make sure we are guided by certain principles,” Tonko, who’s chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on climate change, told the Hill.

“It’s there for all political thinking and policy approaches so we are all on the same page going forward and bringing a bipartisan, bicameral discussion,” he said of his desire to reach across the aisle.

The principles, he said, are meant to “build momentum” and provide a good evaluation of any proposals to come, without offering a specific timeline. He pledged that lawmakers will put together a formal modeling on carbon pricing — one approach to combating global warming — “in the future, not too far down this year.”

Tonko said he views his panel, which will likely have the first stab at any climate bill, as the product development side, while the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this year will be the “messaging team.”

The select committee has yet to hold its first meeting. Pelosi appointed the panel members on Feb. 7.

Environmentalists and activists have grown frustrated by what they view as action at a glacial pace, especially when science shows glaciers are rapidly melting. 

“I think that what we are being told by the science is that we have a deadline for reducing greenhouse gases by at least 50 percent over the next 10 years. So we have to do everything we can, and that’s not going to be slow and steady — that’s going to be large and ambitious,” said Mitch Jones, climate and energy program director at Food and Water Watch.

Environmental studies released over the past year have warned that carbon emissions will cause irreversible damage if they aren’t reversed in the next 12 years. A United Nations study released last week warned that warming of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius is already “locked in” in the Arctic, even if all emissions were to end today.

“I think that the sense of urgency is somewhat lacking, but I feel that’s true of a lot of leadership on the Hill,” he added. “I just think that the mindset of the urgency of what is actually happening is slowly trickling up to Congress but hasn’t quite penetrated it.”

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Democrats Ed Markey Elaine Luria Environment Green New Deal House Nancy Pelosi Paul Tonko Sean Casten
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