Jul 1, 2020 - Energy & Environment

House Democrats smooth over climate differences — for now

Illustration of a fist tightly clenching a wind turbine
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Democrats' new climate blueprint may be a wish list, but for now it has succeeded in one big respect: Avoiding a major flare-up of intra-left tensions over policy.

Driving the news: A lot of groups cheered the nearly 550-page plan yesterday, while criticisms from the left flank of the green movement were real but rather muted.

  • "The House Democrats' climate plan is more ambitious than what we’ve seen from Democratic leadership to date — and that is in no small part a testament to the ever-expanding climate movement who have demanded a Green New Deal," said 350.org's Natalie Mebane.
  • Still, she urged Democrats to "go even further and put forward a plan at the scale of the climate crisis."

What they're saying: For one look at where the left is, check out this new blog post from Julian Brave NoiseCat of the think tank Data for Progress.

  • He argues the "zeitgeist has changed" in Democratic climate politics, citing a leftward move and also notes the plan's emphasis on environmental justice.
  • "As someone who stumbled into the climate fight before it was cool, I can’t help but read the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report — even the parts I disagree with — as a sort of small, wonky victory," he writes.

Yes, but: In one sign of how tricky climate politics are, yesterday AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka offered a mix of praise and warning shots.

  • "There are concerns for our unions in these recommendations, including some of the tax provisions and timetables for emissions reductions and technological mandates," he said in a statement.

The big picture: There's nothing remotely resembling a clear path for enacting most of the big proposals, which in sum are vastly more aggressive than any climate policy seriously considered in the United States.

  • The report, at least the big-ticket pieces requiring legislation, is best viewed as a menu of options for Democrats if — if! — they regain control of the White House and the Senate.
  • And even then, it would depend on how much they could cram through the Senate's budget reconciliation process (which offers a rare chance to move bills without a supermajority), and the party's uncertain appetite to scrap filibuster rules.
  • And also keep in mind that creating legislation opens up endless avenues for conflict that a set of policy recommendations — even a super-duper-detailed one — paper over.

What's next: This morning a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a "serious report on how to tackle the climate crisis."

  • "You will see a similar report from Senate Democrats in July, and if we take the majority, one of the first things we will put on the floor will be a big, bold climate bill," Justin Goodman said.

What we don't know: Readers, please correct me if I'm missing it, but I haven't seen reactions from moderate Senate Democrats, who would have huge sway if the party gains a majority in the chamber.

  • An aide to Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the chamber's energy panel, did not respond to a request for comment.
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