Committee Corner — House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

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On June 30, 2020, the majority members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released their 547-page report on the committee’s work. The report, entitled “Solving the Climate Crisis,” is an ambitious and expansive roadmap for Congress to, in their words, “build a prosperous, clean energy economy that values workers, advances environmental justice, and is prepared to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.” 

The Select Committee was authorized on January 9, 2019, by the 116th Congress to prepare climate policy recommendations that would achieve substantial and permanent reduction in pollution and other activities that contribute to the climate crisis. The committee is comprised of Rep. Kathy Castor (D – FL), Chairperson, along with eight other Democratic members and Rep. Garret Graves (R – LA), Ranking Member, along with five other Republican members. They were tasked with providing a report by March 31, 2020, a date that was postponed due to the intervention of COVID. The Committee was not tasked with producing actual legislation. In fact, by their charter, they were not able to do that. Instead, they were to create policy recommendations, strategies and plans that Congress could consider in order to achieve the stated objectives.


What Does the Plan Cover?

Obviously, at 547 pages, the plan covers an enormous amount of material. It identifies 12 key pillars under which are organized hundreds of recommendations for Congressional action. If you would like to review source materials, you have some options:

  • You can read the full plan for yourself here
  • You can read a 4-page fact sheet that outlines the 12 pillars here
  • If you are interested in more details on sub-categories of the 12 pillars without reading the whole report, you can find them here
  • Or there’s a very helpful 2-page summary sheet from which much of this information is drawn here

For our purposes, the 12 pillars can be combined into four major focus areas:

  1. Grow Our Economy and Put Americans Back to Work in Clean Energy Jobs. This includes:

    a. Rapid deployment of all types of zero-carbon energy sources and new transmission infrastructure
    b. More domestic manufacture of clean energy, clean vehicles, and zero-emission technologies including throughout the supply chain
    c. Creating new economic sectors such as direct air capture and low-carbon building materials
    d. Creating new, high-quality, good-paying clean energy economy jobs bolstered by the strengths of union representation

  2. Protect the Health of All Families.  This includes:

    a. Prioritizing environmental justice communities for investment and enforcement of environmental laws
    b. Strategic planning for community response to climate-related health risks and disasters 
    c. Preparing for the effects of the climate crisis by ensuring hospitals can withstand climate impacts and have secure supply chains, and that state and local governments have climate crisis response plans
    d. Protecting the health of workers by strengthening standards for all those exposed to severe heatwaves

  3. Make Sure Our Communities and Farmers Can Withstand the Impacts of Climate Change. This includes:

    a. Launching a National Climate Adaptation Program so that homes, businesses and critical infrastructure can withstand climate change
    b. Strengthing building codes for federally funded projects
    c. Accelerating resilient recovery by expediting disaster relief payments and rebuilding wisely
    d. Helping farmers and ranchers implement soil health practices that support resiliency

  4. Protect America’s Land and Waters for the Next Generation. This includes:

    a. Protecting at least 30% of all U.S. lands and ocean areas by 2030
    b. Limiting fossil fuel extraction leasing
    c. Protecting and restoring vital ecosystems to sequester carbon and improve natural resilience
    d. Creating jobs by reestablishing the Civilian Conservation Corps and creating a Climate Resilience Service Corps

What Does It Accomplish?

As Committee Member Sean Casten (D-IL) has explained, the goal of the Committee was to first look at the science to determine what was needed to meet the challenges of the rapidly evolving climate crisis. After understanding that, the Committee then sought to identify what specific actions that were consistent with the science could be taken to meet those challenges.  

To combat the worst effects of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that in order to hold global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels it is necessary to reduce net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions by at least 45% from global 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. Based on those scientific requirements, the Climate Crisis Action Plan calls for “reaching 100% clean, net zero emissions economy-wide in the U.S. by no later than 2050 and achieving net-negative emissions during the 2nd half of the century” along with the enabling objective of “establishing ambitious interim targets to assess progress and reduce pollution in environmental justice communities.”

After completing the Plan, the Committee then submitted it to the non-partisan think tank, Energy Innovation, for an independent analysis of what the plan could achieve. Energy Innovation concluded that, examining only a subset of the recommendations, the plan could achieve:

  • Net-zero carbon dioxide emissions before 2050
  • 62,000 deaths avoided annually by 2050
  • Nearly $8 trillion in cumulative climate and health benefits through 2050
  • Reduced net U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 37% below 2010 levels in 2030 and 88% below 2010 levels in 2050

What Doesn’t It Do?

As mentioned above, the Plan does not create any legislation. It only provides the roadmap for legislation. The value of the Committee’s charge to investigate the entire challenge of the climate crisis is that they could take a holistic view of the situation and develop wide-ranging recommendations for solutions. But Congress, as we know, is siloed and so every one of these recommendations will require slicing and dicing among a variety of committees with often overlapping jurisdictions.  This will slow down a process that is inherently slow and seriously challenge our ability to achieve the objectives in the Plan.  

Luckily, the Plan can serve as a benchmark to measure progress being made by each new piece of legislation so that we don’t lose our way in the weeds.

A second concern, related to the first, is how to sequence the legislation.  What do we do first, second, third? What can we do concurrently?  What part relies on another part being completed? How much is already partially done? There has been some substantial environmental legislating done in the House in this session, all of it stalled by McConnell in the Senate. How much of that can be resurrected and passed in a Senate under Democratic control?

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Committee’s charge was climate change. It was not environmental justice (EJ). The charge included consideration of environmental justice issues but it was not primarily focused on EJ. Therefore issues such as those like the Flint water crisis are not dealt with directly since lead pipes are not a climate change issue, although the Flint water crisis is clearly an EJ issue. While there is substantial consideration of environmental justice in the context of climate change, the bulk of recommendations are not focused primarily on EJ.

The other thing the Plan can’t do is deliver us a new administration.  Without that, the Plan is virtually useless.  


How Does It Relate to the Green New Deal?

This is obviously a pertinent question. The Green New Deal (GND) and “Solving the Climate Crisis” serve two very different purposes. The GND is a broad, aspirational statement of where we would like to see the country go.  It topped out at 14 pages and was never designed to be a detailed roadmap to specific legislation. It also dealt with a much wider view of the landscape of “green.” It did not only address the issue of climate change but also environmental and social justice. In many ways, the GND was the roadmap for “Solving the Climate Crisis.” Re-reading the GND, one sees that many of the categories outlined in it are taken up in much greater detail in “Solving the Climate Crisis.” If the Green New Deal stuck a stake in the ground, “Solving the Climate Crisis” strings the wire between the stakes and lays out the plots of ground that need to be plowed.

Remember also, that the Green New Deal was only a resolution to indicate a sense of the Congress, both chambers. It proposed no new specific legislation and it was voted down by the Senate.


What’s Next?

In order for this thorough, far-sighted and amazing piece of work to have any impact at all, 3 things have to happen:

  1. We need a Democratic president.
  2. We need Democratic control of both chambers of Congress.
  3. Even with complete Democratic control, we need the political will to make it happen.

That will require a high degree of commitment to the future and a willingness to jettison commitments to corporate interests, particularly those in the fossil fuel industries. One example from the Plan — we need to spend at least $800 billion on energy infrastructure PER YEAR to get to the goals outlined. Where do we find that kind of money? Hint: $650 billion in direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies are paid out each year. Do we have the political will to end them?

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