Congress

Pallone promises climate legislation that even Republicans might like

Looks to zero out U.S. carbon emissions by 2050

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., begins working on legislation to zero out U.S. carbon emissions by 2050. (File photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats unveiled an agenda to zero out U.S. carbon emissions by 2050 and left open the menu of energy sources and policies they would use to meet that goal.

Speaking to reporters and environmental activists on Tuesday, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-New Jersey, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the panel would begin working on legislation to reach that target, a threshold scientists say is vital to staving off dramatic climate change.

“It’s an ambitious goal,” Pallone said.

[Video: Democrats flex muscles with ‘aggressive’ climate initiative: ‘There’s no time to waste.’]

The same goal has been established by states and territories including Maine, Nevada and Puerto Rico, as well has nations including Germany, Japan and Spain.

Still, the goal is less ambitious than the Green New Deal, a comprehensive plan offered in February by progressive Democrats to make the U.S. a net-zero emitter by 2030, a goal experts say may not be technically possible.

[Climate change protesters glue themselves together in tunnel to Capitol]

Democrats will hold a series of hearings and private meetings on climate before unveiling a bill, which they expect to deliver this winter. “It might be one bill,” Pallone said. “It might be multiple bills.”

And they plan to court Republican lawmakers and voters for their support. “We’re going to have to have some bipartisan buy-in on this,” said Darren Soto, D-Florida, who, with Reps. Paul Tonko, D-New York,  Nanette Barragán, D-California, A. Donald McEachin, D-Virginia, Bobby L. Rush, D-Illinois, and Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, joined Pallone in announcing the effort.

Doyle, who was in Congress when the House passed a cap-and-trade bill to establish a carbon-pricing market, pleaded with his Democratic colleagues not to fight over their climate plans, acknowledging more ambitious goals set by progressive supporters of the so-called Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.

“We need to build public support,” Doyle said, adding that internecine spats will burn time climate scientists warn the planet does not have to spare.

After the cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate in 2010, Republicans did nothing to address climate change for the next eight years, Doyle said.

“The worst thing that can happen is for allies to fight with each other,” he said. “Please let’s not fight with each other.”

But some allies of the more ambitious Green New Deal may be girding for a fight.

“Pushing the deadline for action to 2050 waves the white flag of surrender,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a dangerous abdication of their duties to a country already suffering from monster hurricanes, wildfires and other climate catastrophes.”

Still, activists and officials from the League of Conservation Voters, Environment America, Moms Clean Air Force, the Nature Conservancy and others attended the Tuesday announcement,

“America must set a goal: climate safety for all families,” Dominique Browning, cofounder and senior director of Moms Clear Air Force, an advocacy group, said in a statement. “Leadership from Congress is urgently needed,” she said. “We must work towards a 100 percent clean economy by 2050.”

Part of the Democrats’ strategy to win Republican support for the agenda appears to be centered around the economic hazards of climate change.

“Severe weather incidents are getting worse,” Pallone said, adding that the power went out in his New Jersey house after storms and a weekend of sweltering heat.

“Something like 200,000 are without power, including my own house,” he said.

“It’s also the economic cost of climate change,” Pallone said. “Our economy is going to take an extreme hit.”

Asked by CQ Roll Call how this agenda will vary from other climate plans, Tonko cited the dropping price of renewable energy, specifically solar panels, and an improved economy a decade after the financial crash of 2008.

“These are things that are good news,” he said.

McEachin, a former Virginia state lawmaker, said the American public has realized the importance of climate change more than before.

“All of us have been toiling in the vineyards” to address climate change, he said, turning to his colleagues. Citizens today grasp “the fierce urgency of now,” McEachin said.

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