WASHINGTON – Democrats in Congress are due to release a broad list of climate change proposals on Tuesday, detailing in detail what could become the starting point for their climate agenda if the party regains control of Congress and the White House in next year.
The 538-page report sets out a number of goals, including ensuring that every new car sold in 2035 does not emit greenhouse gases, eliminating overall emissions from the energy sector in 2040 and virtually eliminating the country's total emissions by 2050.
It also requires companies and, by extension, consumers to pay for the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but in a way that returns money to low and moderate income families. In the past, efforts like these were politically difficult to achieve: in 2018, Governor Jay Inslee tried and failed to approve a version in Washington state.
The package also addresses climate change as a matter of racial injustice. The report cites the police's killing of George Floyd in its opening paragraph and continues to argue that communities of color are also more at risk from the effects of climate change. The report says the government should prioritize minority communities for new spending on energy and infrastructure.
"We have to focus on environmental justice communities," said Representative Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and chairman of the Chamber's Climate Crisis Selection Committee, who compiled the report. "There is an awakening across the country to systemic racism, and this is a report that, at its core, in essence, focuses on these communities."
Few proposals are likely to get anywhere this year, because they would require support from the Republican-led Senate and President Trump, who called climate change a scam. But, as a political statement, the package is noteworthy because it presents what Democrats call a comprehensive legislative agenda for climate change, at a time when public support is on the rise.
In 2016, only 38% of adults in the United States said that tackling global climate change should be "one of the top priorities for the president and Congress," according to the Pew Research Center. That year, that number had jumped to 52%.
Still, a big challenge remains: how to meet the demands of climate activists without alienating the most centrist voters.
Last year, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York, launched the Green New Deal, which requested 100% of the country's energy from renewable sources and zero emissions in 10 years. Republicans criticized their proposals, using them (and sometimes de-characterizing them) to try to paint Democrats as willing to sacrifice the economy in pursuit of environmental goals. The Democratic leadership sought to distance itself from the package.
A growing coalition of Republicans led by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California has moved in recent months to adopt solutions to climate change. These measures focus on the development of technologies that can capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants or other industrial facilities and store them so that they do not enter the atmosphere, instead of limiting fossil fuels.
The economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have put pressure on Democrats, who must balance voter concerns about their jobs with policies to reduce emissions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many Republicans have characterized modest efforts to tackle climate change as having a very high economic cost for Americans who are struggling financially.
Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana, the Republican chief of the climate committee, said the two parties found common ground, including on the need to make communities more resilient to natural disasters.
But where the two sides diverge, he said, is on the question of the continued use of fossil fuels. Graves said the Democrats' view boiled down to "fossil fuels are bad."
"In my opinion, that ignores science," said Graves, emphasizing that he had not seen the report that Democrats planned to release. "If you can find ways to use fuels, but have emissions as good or better, then this is a viable option."
Castor said the measures included in the report, including new federal spending on energy and infrastructure, would create new jobs and opportunities.
The proposals call for cutting emissions of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas sector by two-thirds by 2025, making all new residential and commercial buildings effectively zero emissions by 2030 and setting “targets for climate management across the US. agricultural lands. "
The report, which comes 11 years after Democrats passed the House to impose a cost on companies that emit greenhouse gases, just to watch the Senate fail, again requires a version of that same approach, although the authors emphasize that such a system it would have to be implemented carefully.
"The price of carbon is not a silver bullet," says the report, adding that energy-intensive industries that try to reduce pollution must remain "on a level playing field with foreign competitors that use dirtier technologies".
In a sign of how quickly the discussion on climate change has changed, the report also takes positions that may seem radical just a few years ago.
He cites a 2018 United Nations report that found that preventing a dangerous level of global warming is not possible simply by cutting emissions and requires finding a way to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as well. Congress is expected to "dramatically increase federal investment in carbon removal research and development," says the report.
The report also says that as hurricanes, floods and other effects of climate change accelerate, the government must spend more to strengthen vulnerable communities with better infrastructure, but that will not be enough. In some cases, people will need to move.
"Communities need support for the development of long-term strategies, including options for relocating and resettling neighborhoods or communities," says the report. Programs financed by the federal government must "consider reallocation and protection offsets".
The prospect of climate-driven migration, both domestically and internationally, is so serious that it should be incorporated into the country's national defense and national security planning, the report adds.
"Developing countries are especially ill-prepared to face the impacts of climate change," says the report. "The resulting humanitarian and refugee crises, if left unchecked, have the potential to become threats to national security."
Lisa Friedman contributed reporting.