Democrats outline sweeping legislation to make U.S. carbon neutral by 2050

Source: By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill • Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2020

Democrats outline sweeping legislation to make U.S. carbon neutral by 2050

House Democrats outlined their vision for sweeping climate legislation Wednesday, offering a first look at a bill that would push the U.S. to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Wednesday’s white paper provides the framework that lawmakers in July promised to deliver by early 2020 – a broad climate bill targeting every major sector of the economy.

“We’re treating this climate crisis like the emergency that it is,” House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said of the so-called CLEAN Future Act.

The measure includes a requirement that utilities work toward 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050, a mandate that includes a carbon credit trading system. The transportation sector would also have to be emissions free by that deadline, as the Environmental Protection Agency ratchets up increasingly tight vehicle standards. And buildings and industry would also have to clean up their act, using materials from more environmentally friendly sources while meeting tighter building codes.

States would play an active role in developing plans to ensure their economies meet the national standard.

And funding it all would be a first-of-its-kind National Climate Bank, mobilizing private and public funding to boost technological innovation as well as projects to bolster against the effects of climate change.

A more complete discussion draft is expected by the end of the month, but any legislation would face resistance in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to bring a number of climate-focused bills to the floor, and from the White House.

Democrats say while they hope to get Republican support from the bill, they are not counting on it.

“Most of them are climate deniers. The president, the leadership won’t admit here’s a human element to the climate disaster that we face, so that’s a huge problem in trying to get them to participate,” Pallone said.

“I don’t want you to see this as a messaging bill. We’re going to try to move this bill or pieces of this bill when we can.”

Republican leaders on the committee expressed an interest in working with Democrats on some portions of the bill, hoping that some aspects of the legislation will align with a package of a dozen pieces of legislation that tackle climate change through technological innovation, greater reliance on natural gas and nuclear, and developing better battery storage.

Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said he hoped some of those pieces of bipartisan legislation could be a starting point for tackling climate issues.

“My view is always if we can get that done, let’s get that done. And then we can argue about other stuff where we may come to terms, and there will be things where we’re just polar opposites, right? But we ought to grab the things that are already bipartisan, and move forward on those,” he said.

But one of many likely sticking points would be the framework’s call for a carbon trading market. Under the system, suppliers could trade clean energy credits or buy or sell them at an auction. Utilities that do not meet clean energy requirements would be hit with a penalty.

Though Democrats stressed they did not set a price on carbon, the mandate for states to create the trading markets would allow them to do so.

“If you’ve got to have a credit and you’ve got to have auctions, then that feels a lot like cap and trade,” Walden said, something he is opposed to.

The legislation is also slated to include a “buy clean” program modeled after the Buy American Act, which preferences American-made products in federally-funded projects. The Buy Clean Program would score construction materials, requiring big building projects to use those that produce fewer emissions in their sourcing and production.