Jun 30, 2020 - Energy & Environment

6 takeaways from the House Democrats' climate blueprint

Several globes, hanging from a string, symbolizing climate change and Congress
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Democrats have released a 547-page template-slash-wish-list that could chart a path for the party to follow if they regain control of the Senate and the White House in this year's election.

The big picture: The plan from the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis calls for net-zero U.S. emissions by 2050, net-zero power-sector emissions by 2040, and a zero-emissions requirement for 100% of light-duty vehicle sales by 2035, among other targets.

Here are six takeaways from the long list of regulatory and legislative ideas...

1. George Floyd's influence. The plan — which cites Floyd's killing on the first page — strongly emphasizes the nexus between pollution and racial inequalities, something long on the policy radar but now receiving even greater attention.

  • Provisions include steering a "significant" amount of clean energy investments to "environmental justice communities" and would require that proposed rules and laws be analyzed for their impact on "frontline communities."

2. COVID-19's influence. The pandemic is cited dozens of times for a bunch of reasons. It embraces the idea that climate-friendly energy investments should be part of the economic response.

  • Elsewhere, the discussion of fortifying infrastructure and economic sectors — including health care — against extreme weather cites the pandemic as an example of what happens when the health care system is unprepared.

3. Carbon pricing is present but de-emphasized. As Axios Generate readers know, pricing has become far less central to Democrats' plans, but it's not absent.

  • The section on it, which does not lay out a specific pricing system, notes the overall concept is "only one tool to complement a suite of policies to achieve deep pollution reductions and strengthen community resilience to climate impacts."
  • But the plan includes a suite of other tools, such as a "Clean Energy Standard" for power and a "Low Carbon Fuel Standard" for transportation.

4. There are nods toward the Green New Deal. The plan stops short of the sweeping template popular among activists on the party's left flank (some of whom, by the way, want something even more aggressive than the ambitious 2050 net-zero timeline).

  • You'll find ideas like reviving the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (h/t Tampa Bay Times), and support for several of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's bills, notably the "Green New Deal for Public Housing Act" she crafted with Sen. Bernie Sanders.
  • But that said, there's no universal health care or overarching job guarantee as suggested in the GND.
  • And, the committee released a list of dozens of supportive statements from green groups and experts, but the Bernie- and AOC-aligned Sunrise Movement isn't among them.
  • Speaking of Sunrise, the group tells me this morning that they're happy the plan "reflect[s] much of the vision for a Green New Deal," but also said, "it still needs to go further to match the full scale of the crisis."

5. Carbon removal gets some love. There's a sizable section on ways to speed up development and deployment of negative emissions tech and methods like direct air capture, bioenergy with carbon capture and carbon mineralization.

6. Nuclear power and carbon capture stay in the mix.This is among the things that could spur tensions on the left. Nuclear energy and fossil fuels with CO2 capture are eligible technologies under the proposed national clean energy standard.

The bottom line: There's a reason why the report is kind of endless — if a political window to move climate legislation opens, it's likely to be small and stay open briefly, so lawmakers need off-the-shelf ideas rather than starting from scratch.

Go deeper