House Democrats tee up sweeping climate bill as alternative to Green New Deal

Source: By DINO GRANDONI, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2020


Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Top House Democrats are teeing up a sweeping climate bill that aims to be an alternative to the Green New Deal.

The so-called CLEAN Future Act aims to eliminate U.S. carbon emissions from the power, transportation and manufacturing by 2050.

It’s establishment Democrats’ highest profile countermeasure to the Green New Deal, which calls for a more radical reduction in emissions over the next decade and captured the attention of the party’s left wing.

Senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who outlined their proposal in a 15-page memo on Wednesday after months of hearings last year, say they have designed it to win over both left-leaning Democrats and moderate Republicans. They say that broad support is needed to pass enduring legislation.

“The whole idea is to build the consensus,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Part of why I think we’re going to be able to build the consensus is because there’s so much input from other members of Congress.”

Several prominent green groups in Washington, including the Environmental Defense Fund and League of Conservation Voters, praised the outlines of the bill. The full text of the bill will be released by the end of the month.

But when it comes to winning broad support, their work is still cut out for them.

From the left, several other environmental organizations said the proposal was insufficient. They included the influential Sunrise Movement, which support Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) Green New Deal that calls for slashing heat-trapping emissions from the United States by the end of the decade.

“Scientists say we must decarbonize our economy by 2030 to avert the worst effects of this crisis, but this proposal would not get us there until 2050,” said Lauren Maunus, Sunrise’s legislative manager. “Working on this timeline will jeopardize millions of lives, and that’s not a bet we’re willing to make.”

And from the right, Republicans on the energy panel who acknowledge that man-made climate change is real criticized the legislation for being developed without their input.

“Republicans could have stood next to Democrats at their press conference today, announcing serious solutions to reduce emissions. Instead, like the Speaker’s partisan approach to address drug pricing, it’s another missed opportunity,” said Greg Walden (R-Ore.), top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Pallone himself acknowledged it will likely require someone other than President Trump, who has repeatedly denied the existence of climate change, to be in the White House for this or any other climate measure to become law.

“There’s a problem that we have with the Republicans and with President Trump,” he said. “He still denies the science.”

And last year, the GOP-controlled Senate rejected the Green New Deal in a 57-to-0 vote, with most Democrats voting “present” in a show of unity for what they saw as a politically driven vote compelled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The core of past Democratic efforts to tackle climate change involved making polluters pay a price for putting carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. A cap-and-trade system was at the center of their last major legislative push — a bill that passed the House but died in the Senate during Barack Obama’s first year in office.

More than a decade later, House Democrats are avoiding a similar carbon-pricing approach. Instead they want to oblige electricity providers to get an increasing portion of power from clean energy sources starting in 2022.

The standards would ramp up every year until 2050, when suppliers will be required to get 100 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, nuclear, hydropower and other sources deemed clean without being penalized. Electricity suppliers will be able to buy and sell clean energy credits every year to meet those commitments.

The law would even allow some of those sources to be fossil fuels, as long as the vast majority of carbon emissions from those operations were captured. Some oil and gas companies and government-funded scientists are working on that technology, but it is not yet economically viable.

The bill would also require the Environmental Protection Agency to ratchet up rules on emissions from the tailpipes of new cars and trucks, as well as mandate tougher restrictions on the release of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, from oil and natural gas drilling. Leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government, the bill would also require that steel and cement purchased by the government meet emissions targets.

Finally, the bill would create what the authors say is a first-of-its-kind climate bank, which would help finance projects from state and local governments and corporations that reduce emissions.