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Have Establishment Democrats Found Their Answer to the Green New Deal?

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Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have released a detailed “memo” as a prequel to climate legislation they will be introducing under the torturous title of The Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act (CLEAN Future Act or Act).

The Act’s goal is to ensure that the United States achieves net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution no later than 2050. Lurking behind the provisions of the proposed legislation are the political motives of its Committee authors—all of whom are Democrats.

The Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), has indicated that the whole idea of the draft legislation is to build consensus. With whom do you suppose Pallone would like to build such consensus? I’ll give you a hint—it’s not with Republicans. Not that the chairman would refuse Republican cooperation were it to be genuinely offered.

If you guessed the hoped-for consensus partners are the progressive Democrats in Congress, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), you get a gold star on your permanent record. The CLEAN Future Act can be properly viewed as the answer of establishment Democrats to the Green New Deal.

Pallone was candid in his response to reporters’ questions when the memo was released. Asked if he thought the legislation had any chance of passage by Congress, he replied not if Trump was in the White House and Republicans were in control of the Senate.

Even before the 116th Congress was first gaveled to order, progressive House members led by freshman Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tried to maneuver Speaker Pelosi into establishing a new standing House committee on the climate crisis. The newly created committee was to be given the charge of converting the Green New Deal concept that Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on into legislation.

Pelosi had always intended to create a Select Committee similar to the one she had appointed as Speaker of the 110th Congress in 2007. The then-House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming lacked the powers of a standing committee—primarily the abilities to subpoena witnesses and report a bill out for consideration by the full House.

The Select Committee did, however, play important roles in the creation of the 2007 energy act and in shaping the American Clean Energy and Security Act popularly referred to as Waxman-Markey. The House narrowly passed the bill to create a national cap-and-trade program, but it failed even to be brought to the floor of the Senate—which was then under control of the Democrats.

The demand for a new standing committee ruffled the feathers of senior Democrats like Pallone, who would finally be able to assume the chairmanships of committees and subcommittees on which they were forced to sit for years—powerless to act—while Republicans set the agendas. The call for a new committee was accusatory of establishment Democrats and played into the generational battle that’s flared within the Party in recent times.

Democrats in Congress were unprepared at the beginning of the 116th Congress to commit themselves to the GND, which for all its elevated and sweeping prose, lacked the legislative language and specificity needed to make a sound judgment.

The absence of actual structure and the unfortunate leaking of staff memos has allowed Trump, Republican lawmakers, and conservative media outlets to turn the GND to their advantage. They’ve managed to use it as a flashpoint for their claims that the Democratic left is intending to turn our democracy into a socialist society.

Trump has consistently miscast and belittled the concept saying it sounds like a high school term paper that got a low mark and that its supporters want to take away people’s cars, stop airplane travel, and outlaw meat.

The GND electrified the climate debate but created in its wake of two-page resolutions, sound-bites, and sit-ins calling for a wartime economy a policy vacuum that has needed to be filled—and not with the absurd claims of climate deniers and a mythomaniac president.

The CLEAN Future Act is an attempt by leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittees to achieve a Democratic consensus around a broad package of sector-specific proposals with which to respond to the climate crisis. What’s in the draft CLEAN Fuel Act?

  An overview of the CLEAN Future Act

The actual legislative language will not be released for weeks. However, the 15-page memo offers a substantive look into what the draft bill(s) will contain. The proposal is the culmination of a series of extensive hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Energy and Energy and Climate Change subcommittees. It has been contributed to by hearings in other House committees, e.g., Natural Resources. Many of the provisions of the Act have either already been introduced as separate bills by various Democratic House members.

The Act establishes national carbon reduction targets apportioned among the states, much like the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The targets would be raised annually until 2050, when power providers would be required to source their electricity only from supplies considered clean without incurring a penalty. Electric generators would be permitted to buy and sell credits to meet their targets.

The draft bill will propose a nationwide clean energy standard (CES) and amend the Public Utilities Policies Act (PURPA) to ensure that states consider storage systems in their resource mix, establish loan and grant programs for distributed energy systems, and reauthorize the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Act of 1981 (LIHEAP)

The proposed Act goes much beyond the power sector into the realm of the Green New Deal. It establishes a first-of-its-kind National Climate Bank to help states, cities, Tribes, communities, and companies fund the transition to a clean economy. The Act aims to improve the efficiency of new and existing buildings, as well as the equipment and appliances that operate within them through the development and adoption of model energy codes.

Other of the sectors targeted by the Act include transportation and industrial processes. A suite of measures to ratchet up vehicle emission standards and support the shift to low- and zero-carbon transportation fuels are part of the draft legislation.

Strategies for industry include loan guarantees for decarbonization projects, reauthorization of the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) partnership program, support for the development of effective and cost-efficient carbon capture technologies, and rebates, and other funding schemes for the purchase and installation of efficient systems.

To ensure that the transition to a net-zero carbon economy is fair, the CLEAN Future Act introduces environmental justice considerations into the approval of state plans for clean air and safe disposal of hazardous waste, ensuring that approved state plans address disproportionate exposures of at-risk communities, e.g., low income and elderly, to legacy toxic chemicals. The legislation would also provide needed funds for community resilience and adaptation projects.

When published, the bill will be open for discussion. The Committee seeks an analysis of alternative baseline options, including the merits and implications of setting a lower emissions threshold. Under the memo’s heading of “Next Steps,” the Committee lists policy areas not yet in the draft bill but should be, including:

  • provisions related to workforce and community transition;
  • adaptation and climate resilience;
  • agriculture; financial issues, including climate risk disclosure;
  • international cooperation;
  • recycling and waste management; transmission siting; and,
  • trade-related issues, including preserving the global competitiveness of U.S. EITE (Energy Intensive Trade Exposed) manufacturers.

True to the GND concept, the CLEAN Future Act recognizes the complexity of the climate crisis and reaches across multiple sectors in its efforts to achieve desired outcomes. It is an admittedly imperfect piece of proposed legislation, but it can be made better through collaboration.

Several environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund have indicated their approval of Act. Other climate activist organizations, e.g., the Sunrise Movement, are objecting to the proposed bill for its failure to set the decarbonization goal at 2030. Sunrise’s legislative manager has said: working on this timeline [2050] will jeopardize millions of lives, and that’s not a bet we’re willing to make.

How much longer will the timeline be if Trump wins a second term? With Trump in the White House, Democratic majorities in the House and Senate of anything less than two-thirds means years more of Trumpian chaos. How many more millions of lives will be put at risk if the Democrats fail in November? Is that the bet we should make?

The nation is as divided today as it was four years ago. The 2020 elections will be won or lost by the same narrow margins as those in 2016. The fate of a nation and future generations will be decided by a few thousand votes here and a couple of hundred there.

The climate community cannot continue to allow Trump and FOX News to control the dialogue. Time is of the essence, and it’s now time for Democrats and Independents—moderates and progressives—to come together around a common set of climate policies and to propose with one voice—at least long enough to get through the November elections.

Joel Stronberg's picture

Thank Joel for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 16, 2020 3:05 pm GMT


The incessant parade of  U.S. and international climate targets is not helping, but prohibiting, an effective solution to climate change. Every one of them, since the first international agreement aimed at combating global warming (Kyoto), has failed. We have kicked the can down the road. We have procrastinated, postponed cleaning out our offices because there was fresh coffee, put off our dental appointments because [fill in inane excuse here].

When I hear of new proposed targets now, of new proposed proposals, of developing proposals, of "net-zero" credit cards, of cap-and-trade, of renewable energy credits, of carbon credits, I'm disgusted. Please - don't pretend to be excited about some detailed memo of a prequel fo climate legislation Democrats plan to introduce setting a goal to ensure to promise to finally, really and surely, be certain the U.S. achieves net-zero, kinda-sorta, almost-maybe, greenhouse gas pollution by the year 20XX (or at the worst, 21XX).

That's asinine. And blaming Trump is icing on the pooh-cake, because these signed papers, replete with pompous intent, will be worthless no matter who was president when they were signed. Why? The goals won't fail until after their authors are dead and buried, lofty promises forgotten long before their due date. Zero accountability.

Here's what I want to hear about: goals to meet before the next election cycle. This year, and the next. No, there won't be any net-zero carbon legislation, but maybe a negotiated, revenue-neutral carbon tax, or a bill preventing existing nuclear plants from shutting down, or a goal of lowering 2020 overall U.S. carbon emissions below 5 gigatonnes, and the steps to get us there. Or a goal of lowering the U.S.A.'s 2021 place on the worst per-capita carbon emitters list from 11 to 16 - below Middle Eastern caliphate Oman.

We don't set goals like these because they're the hard goals, the ones which demand accountability. But maybe because of that, they're the only ones that work.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 16, 2020 12:52 pm GMT

Joel-- given that much of the Green New Deal fervor was excitement that such legislation was really creating this conversation and momentum towards clean energy measures that had rarely stayed beyond a news cycle or two in the past. Do you think the original Green New Deal and then this can be seen as an effective 'negotiation,' where the authors of the Green New Deal were positioning an overly aggressive approach hoping that the 'counter' from establishment would be this type of a measure that's more aggressive than said establishment may have been willing to do previously? Or will the Green New Deal supporters/authors see anything short of their proposal a compromise too far?

T Conroy's picture
T Conroy on Jan 16, 2020 6:45 pm GMT

The ad hominem attacks on climate non-believers and their political representative is simply a poor excuse for choosing continuing failure. 

Pres. Trump doesn't believe in taking costly action to reduce atmosperic carbon loading, and (some) Dem's do. (Most) Dem's don't believe in a southern border wall, Pres. Trump does.  

The essence of politics is supposed to be compromise. The author should be encouraging Dem politicians to find something to trade for the desired spending/regulations they seek to accelerate carbon reduction. 

Until there is a serious proposal regarding what the Dem's are willing to offer the Repub's in return for carbon reduction initiatives then it is all just playing politics without any seriousness. Nobody can credibly accuse Pres Trump of not being willing to negotatie a deal.

We should start to hold our politicians accountable to do their jobs instead of continuously blaming the current bogeyman.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 16, 2020 10:15 pm GMT

T, I suppose calling Trump a "mythomaniac" could be considered an ad hominem attack, if he wasn't a confirmed liar. And given the maniacal frequency with which he lies, fabricates, and miscasts his own record as well as those of his opponents, mythomaniac is more fact than fiction.

DIsbelief in anthropogenic climate change, in 2020, is akin to disbelief in gravity - and don't worry about Dems. They will get done what needs to be done, without the help of Trump or any of his band of sniveling cowards come January 2021.

I suppose calling Senate Republicans "sniveling cowards" could be considered an ad hominem attack, but that, too, is more fact than fiction.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 16, 2020 10:45 pm GMT

Until there is a serious proposal regarding what the Dem's are willing to offer the Repub's in return for carbon reduction initiatives then it is all just playing politics without any seriousness. Nobody can credibly accuse Pres Trump of not being willing to negotatie a deal

The problem isn't that climate change isn't a philosophical debate like about taxes, defense spending, immigration policy, abortion rights, etc. The deal that all people, regardless of political persuasion, needs to accept is: act now and in return hope that we aren't too late to mitigate the worst effects that will affect everyone globally via sea level rise, food and other resource shortages, etc. 


Joel Stronberg's picture
Joel Stronberg on Jan 17, 2020 5:43 pm GMT


The thought occurred to me when writing the article that I should put a line or two regarding the fact that I was appearing to condone Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s exclusion of their Republican colleagues. I think I can safely say that I most often encourage bipartisan cooperation in my writings and professional work on behalf of clients.

In this case, however, I believe it necessary for Democrats to come to some agreement amongst themselves. I worry that the tensions between progressive and moderate Democrats will split the party making the task of putting in-place an aggressive and integrated national energy and environmental policy.

I see the Draft CLEAN Future Act as the moderates effort to reach across the intra-party divide that is there. My hope is that the progressives will be willing to see it the same way.

In an admittedly back-handed sort of way the CLEAN draft has resulted in creating a more bipartisan dialogue between House Republicans and Democrats. I reported in my Climate Politics newsletter the other day that Republicans are now beginning to meet amongst themselves in an effort to come up with their own package of recommendations. The meeting was called by Minority Leader McCarthy. This is progress. Two years ago, Republican discussions based on an admission that climate change is real would not have happened.

I think it’s important for both parties to have clear in their own minds what it is they stand for and are willing to do when it come to climate defense. These intra-party discussions are important and take a lot of the pressure of performing in public of the representatives.

I appreciate your having called me on this.

One other point. Bob is right. My comment about Trump was not meant as an ad hominem attack. He lies, which is all I meant by calling him a mythomaniac.

T Conroy's picture
T Conroy on Jan 18, 2020 7:25 pm GMT

Hello Joel,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I am sure that you are familiar with this organization:

As a clearly thoughtful and informed person, I am surprised to hear you repeat the mainstream press chatter that the President "lies", as if that is something new in any President or unique in this one: 

'If you like your health care plan, you can keep it'

“if you like your doctor you can keep him"

" I didn't have sex............"

Please don't tell me you buy-in to the "lie counts" run by left leaning opinion networks. When I have looked into those I find that the commentors lable as "lies" anything they don't agree with. 

I would also challenge your assumption that Dem's should first come to agreement amongst themselves. Our politics today are badly hindered by the "Hastert rule", in which every politician in the party is strongarmed to vote with the party, as opposed to their consituents interests. Perhaps this coercion preceded Hastert, I'm not sure.

It is going to take extreme bi-partisan compromise to implement carbon reduction legislation, and the "center" of the Dem party is going to be far apart from the "center" of the Repub party. The consequences of over-reaching on climate policy has been made obvious by the yellow-vest protestors in France, and the farmer protestors occurring right now in Germany. One thing I'm sure we can agree on is that Politicians place self-preservation above all other "priorities".

Why not start with extensions of the renewables ITC/PTC, and add in energy storage to the legislation?

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