House Democrats on Tuesday announced they plan to develop policies to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century, a sweeping target in the fight to address climate change.
The goal marks a step forward on climate action for lawmakers, but falls short of the 2030 timeline championed by some progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and environmental groups like the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Moreover, the announced target does not amount to a formal plan and Democrats declined to give specifics about what any final legislation might look like.
Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee made the announcement during a press conference led by Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), chairman of the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee.
“It should be clear that climate change is a top priority for our committee,” said Pallone.
He pointed to a recent call from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who urged all countries to plan for net-zero emissions by 2050, as part of the rationale behind the announcement. Pallone also cited an uptick in major weather events connected to climate change, including a recent record-breaking heatwave followed by storms and flooding in the Northeast.
“It’s personal,” the chairman said, arguing that the issue is increasingly linked to economics and long-term national stability, with sea level rise and other climate impacts estimated to cost the country even more as temperatures rise, with current costs already totaling billions.
Democrats said hearings and meetings are planned in the fall with the ultimate goal of producing a final product by the end of the year. One such component of any final plan could be bills like the “100% Clean Economy Act of 2019,” set to be introduced by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) this fall. That bill would direct federal agencies to assert their authority to reach the net-zero target.
Pallone and others emphasized that their efforts would be both bipartisan and bicameral, aiming to get buy-in from Republicans and backers across both chambers of Congress. Tonko referenced “equity and environmental justice,” and said that House members intended to seek input from representatives across the labor, farming, business, and environmental communities.
Lawmakers backing the new target borrowed language that progressives have used to tout the Green New Deal, such as equating the effort required to reach net-zero emissions to putting a man on the moon. “It’s a rather aggressive approach,” said Tonko. “Is 2050 ambitious? Absolutely.”
But the new target is likely to draw ire from the Green New Deal’s backers. The blueprint for a carbon-free economy, introduced in February by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), is light on specifics but calls for a rapid national mobilization over the course of the next decade to achieve net-zero power emissions. The resolution also incorporates social justice elements, like free health care and education, along with an emphasis on job creation and centering frontline communities.
Front-running Democratic presidential contenders have largely embraced the Green New Deal, as have many lawmakers in the House. But party leadership, and the Democratic minority in the Senate, have been slower to warm to the proposal, even as Democrats have sought to capitalize on climate change as a winning issue with the public.
That tension was on display Tuesday. In response to questions from reporters, Democrats shied away criticizing the Green New Deal, praising elements of the proposal while declining to endorse its scope.
“All ideas are welcome,” said Tonko, while Pallone emphasized that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has cited 2050 as the benchmark year by which the world needs to zero-out emissions.
Joined by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, the lawmakers said they hope to ultimately produce legislation that would pass once President Donald Trump leaves office.
Tonko also said he believes the move will garner public support, which will push Republicans, many of whom have been slow to embrace climate action in the past.
“We’ve been on hold for far too many years,” he said.