Here’s What’s Inside House Democrats’ New Climate Plan

U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, fourth from left, speaks to members of the media as Rep. Adam Schiff, left, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Eric Swalwell, Rep. Joyce Beatty, Rep. Kathy Castor, Rep. Joe Kennedy and Rep.-elect Ann Kirkpatrick listen in the lobby of the Longworth House Office Building on Nov. 28, 2018, in Washington, D.C.  (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Democrats unveiled a sweeping plan for climate action last week that embraces much of the ambition of the Green New Deal, while avoiding the use of the name and steering clear of calls for abrupt bans on fossil fuel development.

Instead, the package of more than 120 pieces of legislation seeks to drive a transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, achieved by reaching into every corner of the U.S. economy with new investments, standards and incentives favoring clean energy, jobs creation, lands protection and environmental justice.

The report drew criticism both from those who want to see a more rapid retreat from fossil fuels, and those who think the Democrats should have sought more common ground with the GOP. While the plan has no chance of coming to fruition in the current Congress, its endorsement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate Democrats sets a marker for what is possible if the Democrats gain control of the government next year.

"To the young people who have urged us to act fearlessly, we have heard you," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, who led development of the 500-page report by the panel's Democrats. Castor and panel member Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., are both members of a task force appointed by former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumed presidential nominee, to advise him and party platform writers on climate policy this summer.

In an indication of how far the Democratic Party's center of gravity on climate has moved in two years, the report won some praise from the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which had been critical of Pelosi and skeptical that Castor's committee would have sufficient power.

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The plan is "a real sign that young people are changing politics in this country and the establishment is scrambling to catch up," said Lauren Maunus, Sunrise's legislative manager, in a prepared statement. "This plan is more ambitious than anything we have seen from Democratic leadership so far, but it still needs to go further to match the full scale of the crisis."

Although Sunrise didn't get into specifics, other groups on the left said they would have liked to see a ban on fracking, a ban on exports and imports of fossil fuels, and an immediate halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines.

"This climate proposal inexplicably and inexcusably fails to call for a halt to the extraction of fossil fuels," said Mitch Jones, policy director of Food & Water Action. "It is simply not an adequate attempt to deal with the crisis we actually face."

The road map, which draws on information gathered in more than 100 hearings by Castor's panel and other House committees, calls for all cars sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2035 and electricity to be net-zero emissions by 2040. The plan calls for massive jobs programs, including a Civilian Conservation Corps, investments in infrastructure and the cleanup of abandoned mines, as well as tax credits to spur more manufacturing of clean energy components domestically.

Attention to the disproportionate effects of climate change and environmental hazards on  minority communities is an underlying theme of the report.

The plan would aim a surge of environmental enforcement actions at overburdened communities of color. It would also include enactment of a clean and efficient energy overhaul of the nation's public housing, a $180 billion, 10-year program introduced in Congress late last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the avatar of the Green New Deal.

The report calls for a price on carbon, but asserts that carbon pricings would be insufficient on its own. "Carbon pricing is not a silver bullet," the report said. The report said that low- and moderate-income communities would need to benefit from any carbon pricing policy, and that a carbon market should be paired with policy to "achieve measurable air pollution reductions from facilities located in environmental justice (EJ) communities."

House Democrats also made clear their opposition to political trade-offs that would weaken the hand of those coping with the fallout of global warming damages. For example, the report said Congress should not give liability protection to fossil fuel companies in return for their support of a climate bill. That issue is especially salient nationally, with more than 20 lawsuits underway by state and local governments and others over climate damages, including actions filed in the past week by Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Some critics took aim at the Democrats for putting out a report that no Republican members of the committee had signed onto. Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath Action, a group that is supportive of nuclear energy, carbon capture investments, and other climate action ideas that could win Republican support, said the House majority missed an opportunity for bipartisanship. Powell said the report was "effectively a rewrite of the Green New Deal, leading us further away from real, practical solutions."

But Castor said that she believed that many of the ideas in the report — including investments in next-generation nuclear technology and carbon removal technology — would have GOP support. But, she said she expected that the Republican members of the climate committee would be producing their own report.

"It would make it a lot easier to make bipartisan progress if our Republican colleagues would accept the imperative of breaking from fossil fuels," added Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., another committee member.  "There continues to be a bit of a disconnect here, where they say that they are ready to talk about climate, but the ideas they put on the table revolve around fossil fuel, and the science is quite clear, we've got to make a dramatic break from fossil fuel."

Another committee member, Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., a former energy efficiency entrepreneur and one of several scientists who won office in 2018, said he believes that bipartisanship should not be the goal.

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"What we set out to do was to solve the problem as is scientifically necessary," he said. "It is tragic that the answer to that question is not synonymous with what can be done on a bipartisan basis. But our kids, our grandkids do not give a damn about whether it was bipartisan. They care about whether we gave them a planet that is habitable."