House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) will unveil Tuesday an ambitious package of climate proposals designed to eliminate the U.S. economy’s contributions to climate change by 2050 through a combination of government mandates, tax incentives and new infrastructure.
The sweeping set of proposals from House Democrats is a signal what party leaders broadly are willing to do to tackle climate change should they retake the control of the Senate and White House from Republicans in 2021.
As Steven Mufson and I report, the proposals would require electrical utilities be net-zero emitters of greenhouse gases by 2040 and carmakers produce only electrical cars by 2035. The plan also includes placing a price on carbon emissions, tougher methane limits and more efficient buildings.
The climate package is sure to face political challenges.
It has virtually no chance of becoming law during the current Congress, but House Democrats want to put down a marker.
“We’re going to press ahead with everything we can do in the near term,” Castor, chair of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, said in an interview Monday. “But yes, it will provide a plan that can be taken off the shelf and adopted into law as soon as we are able to reconvene.”
The far-reaching plan may not be ambitious enough for the Democratic Party’s left wing. And going into an election year, it will likely be fodder for Republicans who will say Democrats are prioritizing pet issues in the middle of a pandemic and are spending too much.
But Castor, citing United Nations scientists who say the world has precious little time to get emissions under control, emphasized that climate change is just as much of a crisis as the coronavirus and racial injustice.
“People would say, ‘Well, why are you releasing this in the middle of covid and … protests?’ ” Castor said. “We can’t wait. We can’t wait any longer.”
Pelosi reconvened the special climate panel after Democrats retook the House in 2018.
The previous version of the committee laid the groundwork for a major climate bill during President Barack Obama’s first year in office that passed the House but died in the Senate. After Republicans retook the House in 2011, they disbanded the panel.
Pelosi tasked Castor, an ally, with laying out a blueprint for Congress to tackle climate change. The Democratic majority on the committee consulted with a range of groups — environmentalists, labor unions, automakers and Native American tribes — to form the plan.
“They’ve been casting a wide net,” said Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy for the presidential campaign of Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) before co-founding a new green group called Evergreen. Ricketts met with the committee last August to offer input.
Pelosi has been briefed on the report and is set to promote the plan at an event Tuesday morning.
“Democrats are doubling down with a huge jobs-focused clean energy infrastructure and tax package, trying to draw a sharp contrast with a Republican Senate reluctant to pass true economic stimulus despite high unemployment numbers,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Senate Finance Committee staff member now with the Progressive Policy Institute. “Assuming no bipartisan deal is reached this summer, it sets up a showdown over contrasting economic visions for November.”
House Democrats’ 538-page plan takes a cue from what states have already done.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states and the District of Columbia have already mandated utilities to get more of their electricity from renewable or other clean energy sources.
To cut carbon pollution from the transportation sector, Castor’s committee said Congress should set an aggressive target that would compel carmakers to ensure that all new passenger vehicles sold by 2035 produced no emissions — and that all new heavy-duty trucks would achieve that goal by 2040.
Solar and wind tax credits would be extended through 2025 and the tax credit for electric vehicles would be expanded. Federal spending on mass transit would double.
The climate plan still leaves room for nuclear energy — a contentious issue among Democrats.
The committee’s plan allows for nuclear power to count toward a utility’s clean energy requirements.
Long unpopular on the left because of the risk of meltdowns and other accidents, nuclear power still produces half of the carbon-free electricity in the country. The growing threat of climate change had led to soul-searching among environmentalists more recently over the issue.
“Where we landed is: If we’re going to get to our net-zero goal as soon as possible, then nuclear needs to remain part of the equation,” Castor said.
The plan calls for putting a price on releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but does not make a detailed recommendation about how to do that or how high that price might be. Any new tax risks triggering opposition.
“Congress has a little more homework to do on that,” Castor said.
The report also calls on Congress to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to consider the cumulative pollution effects of the permits it issues in poor and minority communities in cities. In more rural areas, it called for Congress to protect at least 30 percent of all U.S. land and oceans by 2030.
The package would also create a national climate bank and expand the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program to leverage private investment in decarbonization and resilience projects.
Millions of homeowners face flood risks without realizing it.
And according to new report from the nonprofit flood research and communications group First Street Foundation, climate change is making it worse.
There are “at least 6 million households that are unaware they’re living in homes that have a 1 percent chance of flooding in each year — putting them within a ‘100-year’ flood zone,” Andrew Freedman, Brady Dennis and Laris Karklis report. That’s nearly 70 percent more homes at substantial risk of flooding than are within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s official designation for the National Flood Insurance Program.
“This count is set to grow substantially in coming decades due to the effects of climate change, including sea level rise, which will make hurricane storm surges more damaging, as well as precipitation extremes.”
Chesapeake Energy filed for bankruptcy over the weekend.
The once powerful fracking pioneer is seeking Chapter 11 protection after being crushed by $9 billion in debt and historically low fuel prices during the pandemic, our colleague Will Englund reports.
“Chesapeake swept up leases from Pennsylvania to the Dakotas, from Louisiana to New Mexico. The expansion was entirely fueled by debt, which crippled the company when its own success as a producer — and the success of its later rivals — drove the price of natural gas down nearly 90 percent.”
The Oklahoma City-based company’s bankruptcy, which was expected for weeks, could trigger yet more firms to go belly up since its “creditors include dozens of small oil field service companies, which are already under pressure because of the global collapse in demand,” according to Englund.
The Supreme Court declined to hear a border wall case from environmental groups.
The suit from the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and other green groups was one of several brought against the Department of Homeland Security for the construction of the wall — one of Trump’s signature campaign promises during the 2016 election.
“The Trump administration has waived certain legal requirements to proceed with border wall construction,” CNN reports. “Environmental groups who oppose the barriers say that waiving regulations comes at the expense of wildlife in the region and have challenged the authorities provided to DHS to do so.”