Congress and Climate Change

Federal efforts to address climate change are undertaken under laws, and with funding, approved by Congress. Like other complex economy-wide challenges, climate change touches on a wide array of interests. The stakes vary from sector to sector and region to region. An effective, lasting climate solution requires a careful balancing of those interests, which typically is achieved through the legislative process.

Present federal climate efforts are proceeding largely under the 1970 Clean Air Act, which was not initially designed to address climate change. The most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst consequences of climate change is a comprehensive market-based approach that puts a price on carbon. Despite support from the business and environmental communities, Congress has not seriously debated such an approach since the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in 2009.

Short of comprehensive climate change legislation, there are opportunities for interim or complementary steps that can win bipartisan support in Congress.

Short of comprehensive climate change legislation, there are opportunities for interim or complementary steps that can win bipartisan support in Congress, including:

  • Incentivizing carbon capture, use, and storage. Congressional action can help unleash private capital to scale up the number of carbon capture projects, including by expanding and reforming the existing 45Q tax credit and expanding the use of private activity bonds. This can bring down capture costs, create new markets for products containing manmade carbon dioxide, and reduce emissions from power and industrial facilities. (Learn about our coalition to accelerate carbon capture deployment.)
  • Advancing nuclear energy. Congressional action can help maintain the existing nuclear fleet while also spurring research and development that will lead to the next generation of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is the largest source of zero-carbon energy in the United States and will have to play a role in any long-term decarbonization strategy.
  • Improving energy efficiency. Energy efficiency reduces emissions from power plants, improves grid resilience during periods of peak electricity demand, saves consumers money, and creates jobs in the building and energy sectors. Federal energy efficiency standards are a main driver of energy efficiency in the United States. Further federal leadership can produce stronger environmental and economic benefits.
  • Modernizing infrastructure. Congress will be instrumental in designing and funding any new federal infrastructure package. Infrastructure investments can reduce emissions and improve resilience to the climate impacts we’re already experiencing. For instance, a modernized grid can better distribute renewable power and make communities more resilient to extreme weather. Any new infrastructure should be built to last, with impacts like rising sea levels and increasingly frequent heat waves in mind.
  • Maintaining America’s scientific edge. Congress appropriates funding for scientific and technology research across the federal government. Congress should continue to support research on climate impacts and how they affect the economy. Federal research is critical to basic and applied research on next-generation energy technologies that will reduce emissions and keep America’s economy strong.
  • Building community resilience. Congress can improve communities’ resilience to climate impacts. Legislation should take climate change into consideration to ensure taxpayer dollars are being wisely invested in long-term assets affected by climate change. Programs that help the private sector and individuals make long-term decisions about climate risks, like the National Flood Insurance Program, should be authorized. When Congress appropriates funding to respond to natural disasters, it should help communities build back stronger and prepared for climate impacts.
  • International support. The United States, in keeping with its obligations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), provides important support to other countries to help them reduce emissions, develop clean energy, and cope with climate impacts. Congress can help demonstrate international leadership on climate change by funding bilateral assistance and multilateral programs such as the Green Climate Fund.