Energy & Environment

Democrats’ draft climate bill charts path to carbon neutrality by 2050

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday unveiled a draft of their new climate plan, which aims for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050.

The Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act, the draft of which is more than 600 pages long, would force dramatic changes in many sectors of the economy, from pushing utilities work toward 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 to requiring the transportation sector to reduce emissions not just from cars but also from airliners.

However, the legislation is much broader, pushing for cleaner buildings, efforts to force industry to clean up its supply chain and a host of new regulations targeting pollution from the energy industry.

”Our draft bill is the first comprehensive climate effort in a decade. Its approach is unprecedented, with a mix of innovative and established policy tools that build from the ground up. Taken together, they will propel the vast economic transformations we need to reach an ambitious but necessary science-based target of net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by no later than 2050,” Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded the effort, said in a statement to The Hill. 

And it achieves much of that progress with climate solutions that have never been seen before at the federal level.”

The legislation puts the onus on states to play a role in ensuring that the entire nation reaches its carbon-neutral goal, while creating a first-of-its-kind National Climate Bank to help spur the technological developments needed to get there.

Democrats expect feedback from stakeholders ranging from the energy industry to environmental groups, but any eventual package would likely face resistance in the Republican-held Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to bring a number of climate-focused bills to the floor.

New details of the plan spell out a 28-year path for utilities to switch to clean sources of energy, requiring utilities to diminish their share of carbon-producing energy one-twenty-eighth each year.

Those who are unable to keep pace with their goals could buy clean energy credits from other utilities, paying an increasing price each year for every kilowatt-hour produced by dirtier energy sources.

But the legislation caps that price in 2050, in theory allowing companies to pay a high price if they don’t meet the 2050 carbon neutrality goal — something framers of the legislation argue is unlikely.

That portion of the bill is already proving to be controversial, drawing criticism from both environmental groups and Republicans.

“This broad legislative package includes some policies that would be clear steps forward to address the climate crisis – but it’s concerning that on what is perhaps the central question of climate policy, what counts as clean energy, this bill includes options that could leave a door open to gas and coal,” the Sierra Club said in a statement on the legislation.

“We are counting on Congressional Democrats to show bold climate leadership by making clear that dirty fossil fuels, including gas, are not clean,” it added.

Republicans have previously criticized the system as well, comparing it to cap-and-trade programs that put a price on carbon pollution.

“If you’ve got to have a credit and you’ve got to have auctions, then that feels a lot like cap and trade,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the ranking member of the committee, said when the plan was first outlined earlier this month.

Tuesday’s draft also included more specifics about Democrats’ plans for the transportation sector, including requiring automakers to reduce emissions from vehicles by 6 percent every year for five years, starting in 2026.

Medium-duty passenger vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles would need to get 4 percent cleaner each year in the same time frame.

The legislation also requires the aviation industry to clean up its act, as new and existing in-service aircraft engines would need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

Other portions of the bill take aim at the fossil fuel industry, requiring better testing of groundwater that might be impacted by various oil and gas drilling methods, including fracking. It also eliminates Clean Air Act exemptions for emissions from oil and gas exploration and production. Utilities that rely on coal could have to meet stricter standards for disposing of the ash produced by burning it.

The legislation would also increase funding to clean up hazardous waste sites and to remove the cancer-linked class of chemicals known as PFAS from water.

Rachel Frazin contributed.

Tags Carbon neutrality Climate change Climate change policy of the United States Global warming Greg Walden Mitch McConnell Paul Tonko Sustainable energy

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