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Democrats plant a flag with bill to eliminate carbon emissions

Proposal has 150 co-sponsors in House but unlikely to move in Senate

Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va., is the lead sponsor of the bill, which would direct federal agencies to determine how to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va., is the lead sponsor of the bill, which would direct federal agencies to determine how to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats have offered their most ambitious climate legislation since progressives offered the now languishing Green New Deal resolution in February.

The new bill, introduced Thursday with more than 150 Democratic co-sponsors including Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, would have federal agencies determine how to reduce net U.S. carbon emissions to zero by 2050 — and to write regulations to meet that goal.

[How ‘resilience’ became a politically safe word for ‘climate change’]

The long list of co-sponsors did not include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile freshman from New York who introduced the Green New Deal resolution, which calls for a 10-year transition to a carbon-free economy. She could not be reached for comment about the bill.

No Republicans signed on to the measure.

“The need to act on climate has never been clearer: 2019 is on pace to be one of the hottest years ever recorded and every week brings another community damaged by extreme weather events fueled by climate change,” said Rep. A. Donald McEachin of Virginia, the lead sponsor of the bill. “Our climate crisis demands immediate action, and this bill will ensure that our children and our children’s children will have healthier lives and a stronger, more sustainable economy.”

The new measure could move quickly through the Democrat-controlled House. But it may never see the light of day in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky views aggressive action to reduce carbon emissions as a threat to economic growth and jobs — including those of coal miners in his state.

[Looking to 2020, Republican Study Committee eyes alternatives on climate and health care]

Climate scientists have warned that world economies need to act fast to reduce climate-warming carbon emissions to stave off the worst effects of a hotter planet, including more frequent and damaging floods, hurricanes, wildfires and droughts. Reports from the United Nations as well as from federal agencies including the EPA, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Defense have predicted agricultural and economic disruptions that could lead to refugee crises and international conflicts.

Campaign issue

The Trump administration has dismissed the reports from its own agencies, and Republicans in Congress have opposed policies to quickly reduce or eliminate carbon emissions. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter after China.

“The absence of American leadership in recent years has put us behind the rest of the world in our efforts to manage the growing global climate crisis,” said New York Democrat Paul Tonko, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.

The bill is the latest move by House Democrats to highlight their messaging on climate change, which the party said would be a priority when it took over the House majority at the beginning of this Congress. Democrats are also betting that the issue will be a powerful one in their favor as they try to win the White House and Senate and retain control of the House.

The measure would instruct federal agencies to “use all existing authorities” to put the United States on a path toward meeting the net-zero carbon emissions goal while not picking which technologies would best serve that goal. However, that would not preclude subsidies for green energy sources like solar and wind, according to an aide to Tonko, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The EPA would be required under the bill to assess and strengthen the carbon reduction regulations proposed by different agencies, and report each year on progress toward net-zero carbon emissions.

The legislation also would create an advisory committee that would provide the agencies with guidance on how to lead the U.S. to net-zero carbon emissions.

Environmental groups such as Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council celebrated the introduction of the bill.

“It sends a message that the future belongs to those who invest in clean energy sources,” John Bowman, managing director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a news release. “And it sends a message to young people everywhere we won’t abandon you to a world of endlessly rising seas, vanishing species, civil strife and rampant wildfires, storms and floods.”

Democrats, who have defined themselves as the party ready to act on climate change, have introduced dozens of bills to address the issue. but only one major legislation has made it to the House floor.

Sandra Purohit, federal advocacy director for the national, nonpartisan business group E2, or Environmental Entrepreneurs, urged lawmakers to move the bill.

“Members of Congress are realizing what states and cities and Americans all across our country already know: That getting 100 percent of our energy from clean sources is not only achievable and necessary to combat climate change, but good for our economy and job creation,” Purohit said in a news release.

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