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Pandemic, inequality helped shape Democrats’ climate plan

The report offers the democrats' legislative road map for fixing what Pelosi calls 'the essential crisis of our time'

Climate change is "the essential crisis of our time," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Climate change is "the essential crisis of our time," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The climate plan Democrats released Tuesday, the product of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, is a complicated tome: 547 pages compiled after 17 official hearings, a year and a half of work and hundreds of meetings. 

“That’s a lot of pages,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. “And the reason is the climate crisis touches every part of our lives.” 

In presenting a sweeping document that covers thousands of ideas, Democrats, led by the committee chairwoman, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., focused heavily on racial justice, equity and science.

“To the scientists who have informed our work, we listened. We have turned your thoughtful analysis into a comprehensive action plan,” said Castor. “To the young Black mother who is afraid to allow her children to play outside because their asthma is getting worse, we are going to start in your neighborhood. Your children come first.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pledged to fight pollution in Black and minority communities, noting that climate change and the coronavirus pandemic both “disproportionately” harm those neighborhoods. “The climate crisis is the essential crisis of our time,” she said.

Said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., “Environmental justice must include racial justice.”

The report, which was expected in March but was delayed as the pandemic bit down in the U.S., could serve as a legislative blueprint for the party if Democrats assume control of both chambers of Congress in January and take the White House.

It calls for sharp emission reductions, pushing greenhouse gas levels down to net-zero — meaning any remaining carbon emissions would be offset by natural or man-made systems that absorb them — by “not later than” 2050. That’s a more ambitious goal than the one set by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


While the Republican lawmakers — including members on the committee, who largely represent fossil fuel-centric states — are unlikely to warm to the suggestions of the report, it may be the most detailed and intricately designed climate change plan to enter the mainstream of American politics.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee responded Tuesday by touting a series of bills to speed licensing for hydroelectric and nuclear projects and lower methane emissions, as well as deregulate oil and gas pipelines.

Yet the report also didn’t please all advocates of climate action.

Greenpeace gave it a B-minus grade. Food and Water Watch called it “Weak Sauce” versus the Green New Deal. And Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said it was a half measure.

“These recommendations don’t include many of the bold and immediate actions needed to avert a climate catastrophe,” Hartl said. “The report has hundreds of positive suggestions, but it’s far too vague on some of the most urgent climate policy issues. We need specific plans for rapidly phasing out oil and gas drilling, slashing carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 as scientists recommend, and other crucial steps.”

The Democrats’ report is more specific than the Green New Deal resolutions Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced in 2019, which changed the conversation around climate change in Washington and set out a set of goals but did not thoroughly explain how to meet them.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., the top Republican on the committee, said in a statement he was disappointed there would not be a process to amend the report in committee.

“Bipartisan recommendations to increase the resilience of our communities and address global emissions — while strengthening the American economy and getting families back to work — are worth pursuing,” Graves said.

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