Building a foundation for federal climate action

Climate change is back on the congressional agenda. And while proposals for carbon pricing and a Green New Deal are driving a vital debate about long-term solutions, there are also encouraging signs that the new Congress could in the meantime make bipartisan progress on near-term steps.

In a recent op-ed, for instance, House Republicans Greg Walden, Fred Upton, and John Shimkus stressed the need to seriously address climate change and to find innovative solutions that can create economic co-benefits.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also held two hearings on the urgency of investing in infrastructure, including to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

To help highlight near-term opportunities for bipartisan progress, C2ES held a Capitol Hill event last week with Democratic and Republican lawmakers and six leading companies, where we released a new brief outlining a wide array of options.

The event was a product of Climate Innovation 2050, a C2ES initiative that’s brought together 30 companies from key sectors to map out climate solutions. The brief, developed with the companies’ input, points to near-term federal actions that could garner bipartisan support and strengthen the foundation for long-term solutions. It includes options from supporting zero-emission vehicles and charging and refueling infrastructure to offshore wind, nuclear energy, and carbon capture.

In his opening remarks, C2ES President Bob Perciasepe cited recent examples of Democrats and Republicans working together to make progress: a more than 20 percent funding increase for DOE research programs; passage of the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act; and the extension and expansion of the 45Q tax credit for carbon capture.

The challenge now is to build on those successes and enact solutions with bipartisan agreement to help strengthen the legislative resolve that will be needed to deliver comprehensive climate policy. Leading climate voices from both parties made clear at last week’s event that they’re working to do just that.

U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Florida), noting the growing demands among his constituents for stronger federal action, announced that he’ll be reintroducing the carbon tax bill he worked on with former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo during the last congress.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) stressed the economic opportunity that accompanies the transition to a low-carbon economy, highlighting the example of the Kigali agreement, which would reduce potent greenhouse gases known as HFCs by 80 percent in the next 30 years.

The vital role of policy in driving the innovation needed to tackle climate change was also emphasized by all six business panelists, representing the power, oil and gas, technology, food and industrial sectors.

Andy Coulouris of DTE Energy highlighted how federally supported research and development in areas like renewables and energy storage would help the power company meet its  commitment to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Equinor’s Geir Westgaard noted that his company’s long-term strategy counts on greater policy certainty in support of clean energy investments, like its Empire Wind offshore wind farm here in the United States.

Stephen Harper explained how Intel wasn’t simply reducing its own carbon footprint, but leveraging digital technologies to help other businesses shrink theirs too, and how policies cited in the C2ES brief can help maximize energy efficiency and integrate renewables.

Ashley Allen of Mars, Incorporated, whose climate strategy relies heavily on reducing emissions from agriculture and land use, highlighted near-term opportunities to incentivize farmers to adopt practices that are good for crop yields, environmental quality, and emissions reduction.

Hicks Winters said LafargeHolcim USA is on track to meet its 2030 goal of reducing the emissions intensity of its cement production 40 percent below 1990 levels, but that stronger support for innovation is needed to help U.S. industry maintain its competitiveness.

Entergy’s Conrad Schatte talked about the utility’s long-standing commitment to emissions reductions, noted the potential impact that the U.S. electric power industry’s $100 billion a year in capital expenditures could have in advancing technologies, albeit in a highly regulated context. He pointed to the need for federal policy to help drive down the costs of technologies that can enable emissions reductions, as laid out in the near-term federal actions brief.

Perciasepe emphasized in closing the discussion that for these climate solutions to be sustainable, they also have to be economically sustainable. To build support for meaningful action, people need to be able to see themselves thriving in a low-carbon future.

You can’t build a foundation for long-term success overnight, but you can build it a brick at a time. There’s an increasing sense that Congress is ready to start, and C2ES, along with the business community, is helping to shine a light on some important first steps.