Sep 4, 2019 - Energy & Environment

2020 Dems' new climate plans need the Senate to succeed

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The last 24 hours brought a burst of climate plans from 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls — along with reminders of why some of the most ambitious proposals won’t happen unless the Senate flips too.

Why it matters: They signal how the field would go far beyond the Obama era in seeking to sharply drive down U.S. emissions, restricting fossil fuels and spurring a sweeping transition to zero-carbon fuels.

  • The plans would flex plenty of executive muscle on topics like toughening auto emissions rules and restricting fossil fuel projects that need federal approval.
  • But there's no getting around the fact that huge portions need buy-in from Congress., including huge increases in climate-focused federal spending and changes to the tax code, such as cutting oil industry incentives.

Driving the news: This morning, Kamala Harris unveiled her long-awaited climate plan ahead of tonight's 7-hour (!) CNN candidates forum on the topic.

The state of play: Absent a sea-change in the GOP's posture, this means that Democrats would need to take control of the Senate to breathe life into them — yet, at most, they'll end up with a narrow majority. That might entice a Democratic Senate to consider scrapping the filibuster, as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested last month.

  • Axios checked in with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's office about the filibuster and they pointed to what he told Vox in May: "Get the majority. Beat Trump. We’ll leave discussion of rules to next year."
  • As for the White House hopefuls, some (including Warren and Castro) want to kill the filibuster while others, like Harris, have been equivocal. Joe Biden recently said it would be "dangerous."
  • Still, some things — notably tax measures — can be finessed with a simple majority using the complex budget reconciliation process.

Here's just a sampling of items in the flood of new plans that would require Capitol Hill action:

  • Harris' plan creates a new "climate pollution fee" on the industry, and also incorporates her "climate equity act."
  • Booker's new plan calls for $3 trillion in direct federal investments over 10 years and also includes a carbon "fee and dividend" plank.
  • Warren yesterday tacked another $1 trillion onto her existing plan in order to fold in former candidate Jay Inslee's energy decarbonization plan. She'd find the money by "reversing Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and giant corporations."

Go deeper ... Why climate change is so hard to tackle: The global problem

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