Jan 9, 2020 - Energy & Environment

House Democrats' climate bill aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050

Illustration of a deck of cards with the earth on them

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

We can already draw some conclusions from yesterday's rollout of the "framework" for big climate legislation House Democrats are crafting through the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

Driving the news: The planned bill aims to achieve net-zero U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Its pillars include:

  • A "clean electricity standard" that forces utilities to provide 100% zero-carbon power, with escalating requirements beginning almost immediately.
  • New requirements for states to submit plans showing how they will meet net-zero emissions targets.
  • Requirements for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deeply weave climate into natural gas-related decisions.
  • New financial support and requirements for low-carbon buildings codes and infrastructure.
  • Vastly stronger vehicle emissions rules and support for EV infrastructure.
  • A "buy clean program" aimed at spurring decarbonization of energy-intensive manufacturing.
  • Mandates for the oil-and-gas industry to deeply cut methane emissions.
  • A "National Climate Bank" to spur more investment in low-carbon tech deployment.

A few takeaways...

1. Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone signaled how Democrats are seeking to lay the groundwork now for legislation if the party gains control of Washington in the 2020 elections.

  • He's pessimistic about GOP support for an aggressive bill. “There’s a fundamental problem here which I would be crazy not to acknowledge, which is most of them are climate deniers,” he said at yesterday's announcement. (Democrats might put something on the floor this year but it's DOA beyond the House.)
  • Yesterday's unveiling showed how lawmakers are working with outside groups to get on the same page now. My inbox started filling up with pre-cooked supportive statements from groups including the Center for American Progress to coincide with the release.

2. Carbon pricing is de-emphasized but it's there if you squint. There's no explicit tax or fee in the framework, and it's not a big federal cap-and-trade system. “We think we can get there and achieve this goal without it," Pallone said of pricing.

  • But, but, but: The plan notes that power companies, under the "clean electricity standard," could "buy and trade clean energy credits from one another or purchase them via auction."
  • And lawmakers name-checked the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the existing cap-and-trade program among northeastern states when discussing state options.
  • Elsewhere, it says that states who don't submit or get approval for net-zero plans are "automatically subject to a backstop carbon fee."

3. Leadership-aligned Democrats will face struggles on their left.

  • There's stuff in the bill that the more lefty wing of the green movement won't like, such as crediting nuclear power and fossil generation with carbon capture in the "clean electricity standard."
  • And some advocates want an even more accelerated net-zero timeframe. The upstart Sunrise Movement, which is aligned with the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party and backs the Green New Deal, called the plan a step in the right direction but also attacked it.
  • Sunrise's Lauren Maunus said it "falls short of the scale and scope of action the U.S. must take to tackle the dual crises of climate change and skyrocketing inequality.” The group Friends of the Earth bashed the plan, too.

Go deeper:

Go deeper