E&C Dems set goals for comprehensive climate bill

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2019

House Energy and Commerce press conference. Photo credit: Francis Chung/E&E NewsPhoto credit: Francis Chung/E&E News

The House Energy and Commerce Committee today announced its goal to get the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a plan to introduce a comprehensive climate package by the end of the year.

Democrats said the goal marks the beginning of a legislative process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and gave few details about how they would achieve the ambitious target.

But they’re expecting at least some input from Republicans as they move through hearings and advocate meetings over the next several months.

If they do drop a bill in November or December, it would likely mark the most substantial step for Democrats as they look to craft climate policy to pass in 2021, when they could control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

It would also be a climate litmus test for the Democratic caucus, which hasn’t coalesced around a single message on climate change, particularly since the rise of the progressive Green New Deal.

Lawmakers, however, stressed that the process would be a unifying effort that complements the work of other committees and of supporters of the Green New Deal, the nonbinding resolution that calls for a 10-year economic mobilization to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t want to give you the impression that we’re not trying to incorporate ideas that came from those who support the Green New Deal,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) told reporters at a news conference this afternoon. “What we’re really trying to do here is come up with a united front that’s driven by the scientific community.”

The net-zero-by-2050 target comes from the most recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which found that the world would have to hit that goal to keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

It’s a difficult target that most in the climate hawk community now agree on, but Congress has been almost entirely silent on climate since the 2009 Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, and Democrats don’t yet have a clear path forward on a bill to achieve those kinds of emissions reductions.

Democrats this year passed a measure through the House aimed at keeping the U.S. in the Paris climate agreement. They have also sought to use appropriations bills to push their climate agenda, though their riders are unlikely to make it into law under the budget deal struck yesterday.

The E&C goal is more comprehensive, and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) suggested that the starting point for future legislation would be a price on carbon or some kind of market-based mechanism.

“Business leadership, utility leadership in many countries is demanding this,” Tonko, chairman of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, told reporters. “They know this is real and they want a response, so it’s time to develop the legislative package.”

Work on the legislative package will begin tomorrow with a hearing in Tonko’s subcommittee on greenhouse gas reductions, and the panel is planning a more extensive series of hearings and stakeholder meetings.

He’s even expecting some cooperation from Republicans on the committee, who have largely dropped denial of mainstream climate science in favor of talking points centered on energy innovation.

“I think the general public is driving this,” Tonko said. “They see devastation in their communities; they understand there’s a price tag to that.”

Environmental groups jumped in to heap praise on the committee’s new goal, announced at the news conference today by Pallone, Tonko, Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and others.

But the Center for Biological Diversity took a far more skeptical tone. It’s among the progressive groups and Green New Deal supporters that have pushed for a quicker timeline to get to a 100% clean economy.

“Pushing the deadline for action to 2050 waves the white flag of surrender,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “These representatives are punting the greatest challenge the world faces to their children and grandchildren. It’s a dangerous abdication of their duties to a country already suffering from monster hurricanes, wildfires and other climate catastrophes.”