Congress’ boldest climate plan ever

The majority report from the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis represents the most comprehensive climate strategy ever put forward in Congress. We’re encouraged to see how closely it aligns with the recommendations of C2ES’s Climate Innovation 2050 initiative.

The plan put forward by the committee’s majority staff reflects both the significant progress made in the 116th Congress toward effective climate policy and the enormous challenges that await the coming Congress.

In scope and ambition, the report lays out a detailed action plan commensurate with the urgent challenge of decarbonizing the U.S. economy. Yet its solely Democratic authorship, and the critical response from the committee’s Republicans, underscore both the hyper-partisan state of Congress and the very steep path to the durable, bipartisan climate solutions we need.

It’s worth noting that the Republican critique did not challenge the fundamental assumption underlying the report: the urgent need for climate action.

This illustrates an evolving Republican stance reflecting the rising demand across the political spectrum for stronger climate action. More than two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government is doing too little on climate change, according to a new Pew poll, and majorities of both Democrats and Republicans favor many of the types of policies outlined in the committee’s plan.

Indeed, some elements of the plan have already found strong bipartisan support in Congress. These include scaling up research and development of emissions-reducing and -removing technologies, expanding charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, rewarding climate efforts by farmers and ranchers, increasing investment in carbon-sequestering forests, and stepping up renewable energy production on public lands.

There may be opportunities in the remaining months of the 116th Congress to enact modest pieces of the committee’s action plan – whether in the transportation bills now working their way through both the House and the Senate or in any further economic recovery package. The plan embraces many of the steps C2ES recently recommended to create jobs and advance climate solutions.

Beyond any such immediate steps, the Select Committee plan provides an exhaustive blueprint of the kinds of policies Congress will ultimately need to enact to put the United States firmly on the path to carbon neutrality, many of which are finding growing support among leading U.S. companies.

The plan’s decarbonization goals and many of its specific elements align closely with the recommendations in our recent report, Getting to Zero: a U.S. Climate Agenda. This report, part of our ongoing Climate Innovation 2050 initiative, was developed in close consultation with more than three dozen companies in the power, auto, manufacturing, oil and gas, high-tech, agricultural, finance, mining, cement and other sectors.

As examples, both the committee’s plan and Getting to Zero call for:

  • Achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050;
  • Enacting some form of economy-wide carbon pricing to reduce emissions cost-effectively, paired with measures to safeguard the competitiveness of U.S. industry and to protect low-income households and historically marginalized communities;
  • Significantly ramping up federal support for technology development, including targeted investments in research, development and demonstration of energy storage, hydrogen, and carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies, including direct air capture;
  • Mandating zero emissions from the electricity sector by a date certain, expanding and strengthening the nation’s electricity grid, and reforming wholesale power markets to put a higher value on zero-carbon generation sources;
  • Setting strong greenhouse gas standards for cars and trucks and investing in zero-emission fueling infrastructure;
  • Helping states and cities upgrade building codes, providing incentives for electrifying and improving the energy efficiency of homes and commercial buildings, and helping low-income families weatherize their homes;
  • Establishing a national climate bank and requiring companies to disclose climate-related financial risks;
  • Expanding broadband networks to better capitalize on the decarbonization potential of digital technologies, and
  • Establishing strong federal standards to reduce methane leaks across the oil and gas value chain and from flaring.

Whatever the outcome of this fall’s election, enacting anything as ambitious as the committee majority’s action plan would represent a political challenge as unprecedented as the climate challenge itself. Early progress on elements with the broadest support would hopefully pave the way for the more ambitious pieces we urgently need.

There is striking evidence that, despite the pandemic and its economic fallout, support for stronger climate policy continues to grow among voters and within the mainstream business community. The critical question is how quickly that support translates into genuine bipartisan action.

The Democratic majority of the Select Committee has outlined its vision. The onus is now on the committee’s Republicans to offer their own. Perhaps they can then work together to enact near-term steps that will help rebuild the economy and to sketch out a more ambitious common agenda to start with when the 117th Congress convenes next year.