Senate Democrats map out climate change strategy

Senate Democrats map out climate change strategy
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Democrats on Tuesday released a more than 200 page climate plan that they’re billing as a roadmap for what they’ll do if they can take back the majority after this year’s election. 

The sprawling report has the broad goals of increasing federal spending on climate action to 2 percent of gross domestic product each year and creating 10 million new jobs. It also calls for the whole world to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The plan also calls for 40 percent of federal climate investments to boost low-income communities and communities of color. And it includes proposals for reducing emissions from the electricity, transportation, agricultural and industrial sectors.

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“We have the opportunity to build more and better jobs for the American people, jobs that’ll help re-stimulate the economy and aid in our transition to clean energy,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

“When Democrats retake the majority in the Senate, we will unify to move swiftly on legislation to tackle the climate crisis. Passing climate legislation will be a top priority for Senate Democrats and for me,” he added.

Democrats need to pick up either three or four Senate seats to gain control of the chamber, depending on who wins the presidency. A number of races, many of which have Republican incumbents, are considered toss-ups by election forecasters. 

The report came out of the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, which is typically quieter compared to its bipartisan House counterpart. 

House Democrats on that committee released their own plan earlier this year. 

The Senate report also calls for the implementation of a federal clean energy standard, emission standard, carbon price or other “market mechanisms” in order to reach clean electricity. 

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To take on emissions from transportation and industry, the report calls for vehicle and industrial emissions standards, among other provisions. Its agricultural goals are more focused on financial incentives and participating in carbon markets. 

Various investments in research and development are also included throughout the plan. 

The plan also calls for increased funding for local public transportation and increasing access to zero-emissions vehicles, including making public vehicles zero-emissions. 

The framework contains a section on incorporating climate change considerations in foreign policy decisions, including national security, humanitarian aid and international development investments. 

The report also discusses investment in renewables, but it’s not clear what role — if any — fossil fuels would play under this framework. 

Asked about the role of natural gas, which some Democrats see as a “bridge fuel” on the way to renewable energy, the senators didn’t give a direct answer. 

“Our focus is on renewable energy generation. Our focus is on conservation and efficiency. Our focus is on making sure that our farms are more profitable, more productive, and play a constructive role in solving the climate crisis,” said Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' CDC causes new storm by pulling coronavirus guidance Overnight Health Care: CDC pulls revised guidance on coronavirus | Government watchdog finds supply shortages are harming US response | As virus pummels US, Europe sees its own spike MORE (D-Hawaii). 

“There is an ongoing conversation about how quickly to transition to a totally carbon-free electricity generation portfolio across the country, but it is not our desire to be using fossil fuels indefinitely,” he added. 

The Democrats also want to achieve their goals through a variety of mechanisms, including using financial and regulatory tools. They call on the Securities and Exchange Commission to update how public companies should disclose climate risks and incorporate that into its rating methods. 

They also highlight the influence of big industry and dark money as obstacles for passing climate legislation. 

Asked about another possible hurdle, the filibuster, on Tuesday, Schumer told reporters, “we’re not taking anything off the table.”

The plan also includes goals for helping communities, organized labor, Native American tribes and groups facing disproportionate environmental impacts. 

The Democrats want to increase enforcement of environmental rules, especially in areas that face disproportionate environmental injustice, create a fund to help workers with the transition away from fossil fuels and considering the establishment of a Native-federal task force on the climate crisis.

The plan received mixed reviews from environmentalists, some of whom praised it as moving the country in the right direction, while others said they did not believe it was sufficiently ambitious. 

“We applaud Senate Democrats for putting together a detailed plan to address the climate crisis, while their Republican colleagues continued to sit on the sideline,” Sierra Club Climate Policy Director Liz Perera said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Congressional Democrats to take meaningful climate action and demand Congressional Republicans prioritize their constituents' health and safety, not corporate polluters’ profit margin.”

However, Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that he didn’t think the plan went far enough. 

“By ignoring fossil fuel extraction and the urgent need to slash planet-warming emissions 50% by 2030, Senate Democrats have utterly failed to make the case for climate action,” Hartl said. “If these weak recommendations are turned into law, future generations will know that the desire to please a few special-interest polluters left them with a devastated planet.”