Key House Democrats are proposing a 2050 deadline to eliminate the country's climate-warming emissions — a goal more ambitious than seen in past proposals from Democratic leadership in Congress but one that still falls short of calls from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and others who support the Green New Deal.
The plan, announced by lawmakers on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, demonstrates how much the Democratic Party as a whole has shifted leftward on the issue of global warming a decade after it failed to marshal enough votes in the Senate to pass sweeping climate legislation.
“It's a rather aggressive approach. Is 2050 ambitious? Absolutely,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (R-N.Y.), architect of the "100 by 50" plan announced Tuesday and chair of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on climate change and the environment.
The proposal from Tonko, committee chair Frank Pallone (N.J.) and energy subcommittee chair Bobby L. Rush (Ill.) is not an actual piece of legislation just yet. But it comes from the leaders of the committee with primary jurisdiction over climate change in the House. During a press conference Tuesday, the trio said the committee will hold hearings over the next several months to line up a bill or series of bills before the end of the year.
The legislators were light on specifics, but achieving such sweeping emissions reductions will likely involve vastly curbing the use of fossil fuels across economic sectors while expanding and even inventing new ways of producing and storing energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.
But a deadline of 2050 is not aggressive enough for many in the party's left flank, bringing into relief an intraparty rift over just how quickly to reshape the U.S. economy to ramp down the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Advocates of the Green New Deal — a framework for tackling climate change put forward by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and backed by more than a dozen Democrats running for president — are calling for the United States to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by the end of the next decade rather than by the middle of the century.
And the latest Democratic plan was met with resistance from some environmentalists. “Pushing the deadline for action to 2050 waves the white flag of surrender,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity. “These representatives are punting the greatest challenge the world faces to their children and grandchildren.”
Yet as Republicans seek to tarnish the Green New Deal proposal as socialist, the latest plan appears to have an eye toward teeing up a legislative package that could win broader support among Democrats, should one unseat President Trump in the next election.
“This is an attempt by moderate Democrats to reclaim the climate issue, pushing back against Trump's climate rollbacks but also against more radical Green New Deal proposals they worry could become a political liability for Democrats in 2020,” said Paul Bledsoe, an energy fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and former Clinton White House climate adviser.
However, even the 2050 target will be hard to hit. Nearly two-thirds of electricity in the United States is generated by coal, natural gas and oil, and the vast majority of cars are powered by internal combustion.
The lawmakers behind the plan point to the conclusions of the world's climate scientists, saying there is no choice but to decarbonize that quickly. In October, a United Nations panel of hundreds of scientists found that to keep the Earth's warming to moderate levels, the world would need to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century.
"I think there is basically a consensus within the scientific community," Pallone said.
Still, Green New Deal backers want an accelerated timeline for the United States because, as the world's richest country, it is better able to make the transition to a lower-carbon economy than most others are.
“Pallone, Tonko, and Rush are misrepresenting the science when they say getting to 'net zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050 is consistent with the global scientific community’s consensus,' " said Varshini Prakash, head of the Sunrise Movement, an activist group that has protested in the offices of top House Democrats in support of the Green New Deal.
She continued: "That is what the world's top scientists at the United Nations are saying, conservatively, is necessary to achieve globally. It's clear that if we are to achieve that goal globally, the United States — as one of the world’s largest and most developed economies — must move much more aggressively.”
Like the Green New Deal proposal, the "100 by 50" plan is noncommittal on ideas sometimes controversial among environmentalists, like building a new generation of nuclear reactors or incentivizing the capture of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel power plants.
But Tonko expressed his desire to place a price on carbon emissions. Congressional Democrats tried to do just that in 2009 with a cap-and-trade bill that passed the House but never made it through the Senate.
"Let the market resolve many of these issues," he said. "We're going to rely on that market base to do this economy-wide solution."
Besides that, the lawmakers offered both Republicans and Green New Deal supporters the chance to help craft the legislation, citing the committee's history of shepherding through Congress major pieces of environmental legislation, such the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, on a bipartisan basis.
"What we're really trying to do here is come up with a united front," Pallone said. "So as we move in the fall to having these hearings and trying to develop a piece of legislation, the ideas that come from the Green New Deal and from those who have been outspoken on the Green New Deal are things that we certainly want to hear."
— A new wrinkle in Bill Wehrum’s ethics situation: On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency rebuffed the idea that the former head of its air and radiation office was recused from meeting privately with the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers for more than year after joining EPA because he had finished doing any legal work related to the group on Nov. 9, 2015. The litigation, which challenged Minnesota’s biodiesel rules, involved the Alliance. the Minnesota Trucking Association and Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.
The final opinion for the litigation came out on Sept. 9, 2016, and lists Wehrum as one of lawyers “for plaintiffs,” including the Alliance. Wehrum himself identified the Auto Alliance as his client in the case in a written response to questions posed by Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) in the fall of 2017.
A spokesman for Wehrum’s former law firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth, declined to say when Wehrum stopped working on the case “All our client matters and billing information are confidential,” said Lou Colasuonno, a senior managing director with FTI Strategic Communications.
Wehrum did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. A spokesman for EPA said the allegations, raised by Carper and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in a letter to the agency’s inspector general Monday, misrepresent “the time period of Mr. Wehrum’s involvement in this case and his client. The Auto Alliance was not a client of Mr. Wehrum, he represented the B10 Litigation Coalition. This is consistent with Mr. Wehrum’s recusal statement.”
— Ohio inks nuclear subsidy: Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a nuclear bailout bill that will add fees to ratepayers’ electric bills in the state to raise about $150 million a year for two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions. The company had filed for bankruptcy protection, and the plants would be set to close in 2021 without financial help, Cleveland.com reports. An additional $20 million from new customer surcharges will also go toward six solar projects around the state. The bill “would effectively stop Ohio’s decade-old energy-efficiency and renewable-energy mandates for utilities, which currently cost residential customers an average of $4.74 per month, according to cost charts provided by the Ohio Senate committee that heard the bill,” per the report. “That means by 2027, residential ratepayers would, overall, save an estimated $3.78 per month over what they pay now, according to the charts.”
— Gorilla Glue for guerrilla protest: A group of environmental activists superglued themselves to the walls of the U.S. Capitol tunnels to urge lawmakers to act on climate change. “Due to the climate emergency, Congress is shut down until sufficient action is taken to address the crisis,” read placards worn by some of the demonstrators organized by a group Extinction Rebellion. “We’re blocking this doorway because Congress isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously,” an activist said in a video posted by the group. Demonstrators said they wanted lawmakers to vote on legislation by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that would declare a climate emergency. “Several Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), thanked the demonstrators as they passed by, [group spokeswoman Kaela Bamberger] said. The offices of the three lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment,” The Post’s Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis report.
— How climate change impacts U.S. crops: A report by the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service warns climate change could mean more years of brutal weather conditions that hamper farmers’ ability to plant crops. That could mean higher costs for federally subsidized crop insurance, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The report… found that if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue to increase, U.S. production of corn and soybeans — which are more susceptible to extreme heat during growing season — could decline as much as 80% in the next 60 years,” per the report. “As a result, corn and soybean prices would skyrocket in that period, as would the cost of crop insurance. According to the study, the cost of crop insurance to the federal government could rise to $7.6 billion a year for corn and $3.3 billion for soybeans. By comparison, the USDA has spent roughly $300 million on insurance for the 2019 crop year as of July 15.”
— About Ryan Zinke’s new client list: The former interior secretary is taking on new clients that previously had business before the Interior Department. While federal law prohibits administration officials from lobbying their former departments for a year after leaving, Zinke told Bloomberg News in an interview that his new roles fall under advising, rather than lobbying. He has joined the board of Nevada-based mining company U.S. Gold Corp. and is advising Texas pipeline supplier Cressman Tubular Products Corp. as well as Houston-based oil and gas explorer Oasis Petroleum Inc. Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Bloomberg that administration officials are meant to be “above reproach,” adding that “if they’re going out and engaging in obtaining employment from entities with interests before their former agencies, it really begs the question of whether, when they were making policy, were they doing it in the public interest, or were they really doing it to enhance their post-employment opportunities?”
— The federal government is dealing with a firefighter shortage: The Interior Department has at least 241 fewer seasonal firefighters than expected amid the peak of the wildfire season, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times. The shortage is in part because of recruitment problems following a record-long partial government shutdown, as the agency often does its hiring in January. “It’s unclear whether the Forest Service, which boasts an annual firefighting workforce of more than 10,000, is also understaffed,” per the L.A. Times. “Wildfire experts said a staffing shortfall in one federal agency affects the other because it shrinks the pool of people who can be dispatched to these disasters. This is a particular concern as out-of-control wildfires in the West become more common and more destructive.”
- The House Budget Committee holds a hearing on climate change costs.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on decarbonizing the economy.
— Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed French lawmakers in a speech in which she also took a jab at right-wing politicians who have mocked her. “Some people have chosen not to come here today, some have chosen not to listen to us, and that is fine; we are after all just children,” she said at a meeting at the French National Assembly. “You don’t have to listen to us. But you do have to listen to the scientists; that is all we ask.”