THE LIGHTBULB

Top House Democrats are teeing up a sweeping climate bill that aims to be an alternative to the Green New Deal. 

The so-called CLEAN Future Act aims to eliminate U.S. carbon emissions from the power, transportation and manufacturing by 2050.  

It's establishment Democrats' highest profile countermeasure to the Green New Deal, which calls for a more radical reduction in emissions over the next decade and captured the attention of the party’s left wing. 

Senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who outlined their proposal in a 15-page memo on Wednesday after months of hearings last year, say they have designed it to win over both left-leaning Democrats and moderate Republicans. They say that broad support is needed to pass enduring legislation. 

"The whole idea is to build the consensus," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Part of why I think we're going to be able to build the consensus is because there's so much input from other members of Congress." 

Several prominent green groups in Washington, including the Environmental Defense Fund and League of Conservation Voters, praised the outlines of the bill. The full text of the bill will be released by the end of the month. 

But when it comes to winning broad support, their work is still cut out for them. 

From the left, several other environmental organizations said the proposal was insufficient. They included the influential Sunrise Movement, which support Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-N.Y.) Green New Deal that calls for slashing heat-trapping emissions from the United States by the end of the decade. 

"Scientists say we must decarbonize our economy by 2030 to avert the worst effects of this crisis, but this proposal would not get us there until 2050," said Lauren Maunus, Sunrise's legislative manager. "Working on this timeline will jeopardize millions of lives, and that’s not a bet we’re willing to make."

And from the right, Republicans on the energy panel who acknowledge that man-made climate change is real criticized the legislation for being developed without their input. 

"Republicans could have stood next to Democrats at their press conference today, announcing serious solutions to reduce emissions. Instead, like the Speaker's partisan approach to address drug pricing, it's another missed opportunity," said Greg Walden (R-Ore.), top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Pallone himself acknowledged it will likely require someone other than President Trump, who has repeatedly denied the existence of climate change, to be in the White House for this or any other climate measure to become law. 

"There's a problem that we have with the Republicans and with President Trump," he said. "He still denies the science."

And last year, the GOP-controlled Senate rejected the Green New Deal in a 57-to-0 vote, with most Democrats voting "present" in a show of unity for what they saw as a politically driven vote compelled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The core of past Democratic efforts to tackle climate change involved making polluters pay a price for putting carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. A cap-and-trade system was at the center of their last major legislative push — a bill that passed the House but died in the Senate during Barack Obama’s first year in office.  

More than a decade later, House Democrats are avoiding a similar carbon-pricing approach. Instead they want to oblige electricity providers to get an increasing portion of power from clean energy sources starting in 2022.  

The standards would ramp up every year until 2050, when suppliers will be required to get 100 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, nuclear, hydropower and other sources deemed clean without being penalized. Electricity suppliers will be able to buy and sell clean energy credits every year to meet those commitments.

The law would even allow some of those sources to be fossil fuels, as long as the vast majority of carbon emissions from those operations were captured. Some oil and gas companies and government-funded scientists are working on that technology, but it is not yet economically viable.

The bill would also require the Environmental Protection Agency to ratchet up rules on emissions from the tailpipes of new cars and trucks, as well as mandate tougher restrictions on the release of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, from oil and natural gas drilling. Leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government, the bill would also require that steel and cement purchased by the government meet emissions targets.

Finally, the bill would create what the authors say is a first-of-its-kind climate bank, which would help finance projects from state and local governments and corporations that reduce emissions. 

POWER PLAYS

— Trump administration wants to make sweeping change to environmental law: Trump plans to unveil a plan this morning that would narrow the reach of the decades-old National Environmental Policy Act in order to exempt some projects from environmental reviews, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report, citing three people familiar with the proposal. The change is meant to make it easier to build mines and lay pipelines, among other efforts. 

  • The details: The proposed regulation would change the definition of a “major federal action” to exclude projects, such as most pipelines, that have minimal government funding. It would also impose deadlines and page limits for environmental reviews, speeding up the timeline so that in most cases agencies would have to complete reviews within two years. Such assessments can currently take three times as long. Eilperin and Brady add: “It would also scale back what constitutes as environmental ‘effects’ from a given action, which could make it harder to include a project’s climate impact in any analysis, and allow certain activities to proceed while reviews are ongoing.”
  • Why it matters: “The White House proposal will almost certainly face legal challenges. But it represents one of the most forceful efforts to date by the Trump administration to strip away existing legal constraints on construction and energy production in the U.S.”

— Yet another year of warming records: Earth just had its second-hottest year on record, and capped off its hottest decade ever, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, The Post’s Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report. The last five years were also the five hottest on record. 

  • The numbers: The planet was a full degree warmer in 2019 than the 1981-2010 average. The last five years averaged 2 to 2.2 degrees above preindustrial levels. That puts the recorded warming near the bar detailed in the Paris climate accord.
  • Why it matters: “Overall, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest level in human history, and likely has not been seen on this planet for approximately 3 million years. However, to meet the Paris targets, the world would need to commit to rapidly slashing carbon emissions at a rate far outside the plans of any of the largest emitters, making achieving at least the 2.7-degree goal technically possible but politically unlikely.”

— Sunrise Movement endorses Bernie Sanders for president: The youth-led climate group, which has popularized the idea of a Green New Deal, is throwing its weight behind Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. "In a landslide vote — more than 75 percent of respondents — Mr. Sanders earned the backing of members of the group," The New York Times reports. The group had previously given the Vermont senator's climate plan a higher score than proposals from either Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or former vice president Joe Biden.

— A test for Australia’s coal-loving leader: The raging fires have revitalized a long-running debate over climate change and the country’s investment in coal mining, and it has provided a test for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has a reputation as a coal advocate. That reputation “has not helped as he has struggled to project empathy for victims of the fires, which have burned millions of acres, killed an estimated two dozen people and hundreds of thousands of animals, and filled the usually clear Australian air with smoke,” The Post’s Kate Shuttleworth and Joel Achenbach write.

— How Murdoch is influencing fire debate in Australia: Australian media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch have been pushing certain narratives that have influenced the debate amid the raging bush fires on the continent. On Wednesday, for example, “Murdoch’s News Corp., the largest media company in Australia, was found to be part of another wave of misinformation,” the New York Times reports. “An independent study found online bots and trolls exaggerating the role of arson in the fires, at the same time that an article in The Australian making similar assertions became the most popular offering on the newspaper’s website.”

  • Why it matters: “It’s all part of what critics see as a relentless effort led by the powerful media outlet to do what it has also done in the United States and Britain — shift blame to the left, protect conservative leaders and divert attention from climate change.” 

— Top Republican warns PFAS bill has “no prospects” in Senate: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Bloomberg News that the wide-ranging House bill to address a toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS has minimal chance of passing through the chamber. “Barrasso’s comments came as the House is swiftly moving toward passage of H.R. 535, a bill that would change the way these persistent and potentially toxic chemicals are regulated,” Bloomberg Environment reports. “…Barrasso said he specifically objected to the Superfund provisions in the House bill because they 'go way beyond' a bipartisan measure his Committee on Environment and Public Works passed this summer.” 

— Damage to Puerto Rico’s main power plant may be beyond repair: More than two-thirds of residents in the U.S. territory were in the dark after this week’s powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake. Now, officials say the damage to the Costa Sur power generation plant, one of Puerto Rico’s major plants, may be impossible to repair, the New York Times reports. “The governor said she and other senior officials traveled to the Costa Sur plant to check conditions after a series of earthquakes that have shaken the island since late December,” per the report. “…Engineers may instead decide to focus on another power plant, which has received federal funding for improvements.” 

— A lawsuit in California over a public beach: State officials announced this week it has filed a suit against a tech billionaire amid a lengthy feud over control of Martins Beach, a scenic stretch in San Mateo. In 2008, Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla purchased a swath of land that included the only access road to the beach. 

  • The details: “The move sparked a protracted battle over the public’s right to the state’s coastline, with the wealthy landowner on one side and ocean lovers on the other. Over the past decade, it has prompted lawsuits and become a rallying cry for beachgoers in San Mateo and beyond,” The Post’s Brittany Shammas writes
  • Now what?: “The California State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission announced Monday they would sue to restore public access to Martins Beach. State officials view the case as potentially setting precedent for other attempts to privatize beaches, which are defined by California’s Constitution as public.” 

— JetBlue says it will be carbon-neutral on U.S. flights: The company plans to offset carbon emissions from all of its domestic flights starting in July, The Post’s Drew Jones reports, which would be a first for a major American airline. “The company’s plan involves both taking steps to reduce its flights’ overall carbon emissions and increasing its investment in carbon offsets, which are environmental projects that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” 

  • Air travel has become a target of criticism: Sophia Mendelsohn, head of sustainability and environmental social governance at JetBlue, told The Post that customers want sustainable options that will still allow them to “go to our family reunions, to the business meetings we need to be at, to see the rest of the world.”

— Top auto lobbying groups merge: Global Automakers and The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, two major auto industry trade groups, announced they are merging to create the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. The groups have worked together on policy matters and are joining to bolster transportation advancements through public policy, according to a news release. “It is critical our organization work to ensure elected officials and regulatory bodies understand how key technological improvements can help improve the health, safety and well-being of our customers, their constituents, and the ten million workers involved in the auto sector,” John Bozzella, chief executive of the new group said in a statement. 

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Transportation Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2020.

EXTRA MILEAGE

 — There’s a new baby chimpanzee at the Maryland zoo: The baby female chimpanzee was born before the new year to 24-year-old first-time mother, Raven, The Post’s Dana Hedgpeth reports.