Energy & Environment

House Democrats chart course to ‘solving the climate crisis’ by 2050

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House Democrats officially unveiled their vision for solving the climate crisis, detailing a plan on Tuesday that would put the U.S. on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

The sweeping plan touches nearly every sector of the economy, pushing for rapid deployment of renewable energy, cleaning up transportation through electric vehicles and a massive expansion of public transit, and promoting cleaner buildings and manufacturing processes.

“We are releasing a transformative roadmap for solving the climate crisis,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis. “We have a plan for building the 100 percent clean energy economy. And we are going to do it in an equitable and inclusive way.”

It’s the first major piece of legislation from the committee, and while it has almost no chance of becoming law this session, the general timetable for decarbonizing the economy is in line with what has been called for by former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

“Democrats know that the climate crisis is the essential crisis of our time, threatening public health, jobs and the economy, national security, and values,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a press conference on the Capitol steps.

“Our plan honors our obligation to address the climate crisis and embraces our opportunity to solve that crisis as we build a new clean energy economy that creates millions of good paying jobs with strong labor protections.”

The 547-page plan calls for transitioning to 100 percent clean energy by 2040 — a goal in line with many existing state plans that have called for the electricity sector to decarbonize.

But some of the other goals may be tougher to meet. To tackle transportation emissions — now the largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. — auto manufacturers would have to sell only zero-emission cars by 2035. Similarly, all new residential and commercial buildings, both major energy users, would have to be net-zero by 2030.

The plan incorporates some of the ideals of the Green New Deal, creating a National Economic Transition Office to assist workers from polluting sectors in finding new employment. 

“To the young people who have inspired us to act fearlessly, we have heard you. This is your moment to press policymakers to enact our solutions to solve the climate crisis now,” Castor said.

It also borrows many of the suggestions from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a former 2020 presidential candidate, whose climate team has since formed a group to forward the ideas in Congress. 

It also calls for protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030, legislation previously introduced by Sens. Cory Bennet (D-Colo.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and establishing a new Civilian Conservation Corps, something supported by many members of the House. It would also establish a climate bank used to fund green endeavors.

The bulk of the plan, however, lays the groundwork for what would likely be a series of legislation that would be needed to establish new standards and regulations across the economy while funneling investments in the green areas that would need to grow.

“Imbedded in here is a lot for Biden as a candidate to pick up and run with,” said Bracken Hendricks, a co-founder of Evergreen, the group formed by former Inslee staffers. “It’s setting a framework for how to build econ transformation, setting goals and incentives to move there and make sure you’re taking steps to bring everyone along.”

The plan has received broad support from environmental groups, who couched it as a way to tackle climate change, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and address inequalities as pollution industries are often located near communities of color.

However, some on the left have argued the plan isn’t aggressive enough in its transition from fossil fuels.

Sunrise Movement, which backs the Green New Deal, said it was encouraged to see some elements of the concept included in the plan.

“That’s a real sign that young people are changing politics in this country and the establishment is scrambling to catch up. 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,” the group said in a statement.

Republicans on the committee said they would review the report, expressing frustration they were not more involved in its crafting. 

The party has repeatedly backed innovation as a solution to climate change, seeking to clean existing industries rather than move away from them.

“Our own experience with the energy renaissance in the oil and gas sector is proof. Economic growth and energy security do not have to be sacrificed in order to improve the environment. In fact, increased production of American shale natural gas helped produce the greatest emissions reduction in history,” the panel’s minority said in a statement.

–This report was updated at 3:51 p.m.

Tags Carbon neutrality Climate change Climate change policy Global warming Green New Deal Jay Inslee Joe Biden Kathy Castor Michael Bennet Nancy Pelosi Tom Udall

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