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House Democrats offer plan for zero carbon emissions by 2050

Republicans promise a plan of their own, but it's unlikely to reach zero-carbon goal

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Energy and Commerce Democratic leaders unveiled a draft climate bill aimed at decarbonizing the U.S. economy by 2050, even as House Republicans expect to release their own plan in coming weeks.

The draft measure reflects prescriptions in a blueprint the Democrats released earlier this month, led by committee leaders Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., to remove carbon emissions from the economy by 2050.

The unveiling Tuesday of the draft bill comes before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis produces its own climate action recommendations, which are expected by March.  

Asked why the lawmakers didn’t wait for the select committee’s report, Tonko, who is chairman of Energy and Commerce’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, told CQ Roll Call that the lawmakers are “doing everything within our jurisdictional boundaries,” and that he anticipates some of the select committee’s recommendations will be similar to what is in the draft bill.

“It’s a huge stretch across the issue areas and committees,” Tonko said of the bill. “This is our statement on what we believe is best from hearings that we’ve held and from stakeholder roundtables and perspectives from every angle and sharing their thoughts.  . . .  We have done our committee assignment that we share with the select committee.”

The 622-page draft called for the elimination of carbon emissions from the U.S. economy by 2050 by restructuring some economic sectors while also paying attention to historically marginalized and low-income communities that bear the worst effects of climate change. The legislation would require federal agencies to develop and present to Congress plans to achieve a national goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It would also create a national Clean Electricity Standard, requiring utilities to generate 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources by 2050 and allowing states to establish their own strategies for meeting that timeline. The EPA would have to approve each state’s plan.

Energy suppliers would be allowed to buy clean energy credits to meet their annual requirements, according to a summary provided by the committee.

That credit proposal was panned by at least one environmental advocacy group, Friends of the Earth, which said it was ineffective and would keep doors open for polluters.

“Fossil fuels must be kept in the ground, not kept in business,” Friends of the Earth senior policy analyst Lukas Ross said in a news release. “This is the opposite of climate leadership.”

The draft adds to several House Democrat-led pieces of legislation in this Congress that face almost no chance of reaching the floor of the GOP-led Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I think they’re setting the table for a future Democratic president and a future Senate, which is what they should do, but I don’t think there’s any expectation that this is going to be signed into law,” Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who is ranking member of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, said of the Democrats.

He said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is planning to release a Republican alternative that he hopes will include some of the ideas Energy and Commerce Republicans have backed.

Republicans said the 12 climate-related bills they’ll offer could gain bipartisan support and become law if Democrats agree to vote on them. The bills include measures to bolster carbon capture and utilization technology, encourage nuclear energy, natural gas and investing in research for grid-scale energy storage systems.

The Democrats say their plan incorporates some of those GOP ideas, as well as bills from others in their caucus.

The draft bill would also establish a Buy Clean Program to encourage use of low-carbon construction materials and products for federally backed projects.

It would create a National Climate Bank to help pay for private and public efforts to transition to a cleaner economy, climate resilience, modernizing the electric grid and for agriculture projects.

The draft also would require the EPA to set clean car standards for new passenger cars, light-duty trucks, new medium-duty passenger vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles.

The bill would also direct funding toward other programs such as reducing pollution, low-income solar deployment and drinking water infrastructure.

The League of Conservation voters welcomed the plan as an encouraging step.  

“In stark contrast to the most anti-environment president in history and his allies in charge of the Senate who continue to put the health and well-being of our children and families at risk by siding with polluters, we’re encouraged to see momentum building throughout the U.S. House of Representatives for the climate solutions we so desperately need,” Sara Chieffo, vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said.

The lawmakers say they’ll continue taking recommendations and holding hearings on the legislation throughout the year.

“Every day, communities across the country are paying the price for inaction through record wildfires, flooding and drought and Congress cannot afford to simply watch from the sidelines,” Pallone, Tonko and Rush said in a joint news release. “The CLEAN Future Act treats this climate crisis like the emergency that it is, while also setting the foundation for strengthening our economy and creating good paying jobs for a clean and climate-resilient future.”

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