The Senate Democrats’ “Case for Climate Action” report
By Jerry Hinkle
Then on August 25, another very strong, Democrat-only, climate policy proposal was offered for consideration, this time from the Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis (SCCC). The 263-page report is titled “The Case for Climate Action” — here, we’ll just call it the Report.
The Report is very effective in describing how strong U.S. climate action can not only stabilize climate risk, but strengthen our economy and create millions of new jobs, address environmental justice concerns, support organized labor, and reduce the health impacts of air pollution. It argues that “too much of the climate movement of the past was about what climate change is doing to us, and not about what climate action will do for us.” In dire contrast, it also makes clear that inaction on climate will yield unacceptable costs to our communities, economy, health and environment.
The Report states three overarching goals:
- reduce U.S. emissions so to spur 100 percent global net-zero emissions by 2050;
- stimulate the economy by increasing federal spending on climate action to at least 2 percent of GDP annually, ensuring that at least 40 percent of the benefits from these investments help communities of color and low-income, de-industrialized, and disadvantaged communities; and
- create 10 million new jobs.
The Report lists policy options by emissions “sector” (electricity, transportation, industrial, agriculture, buildings) for achieving these objectives. Carbon pricing is a policy option in two of those sectors: electricity and industrial. It states “harnessing market forces is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to push low-carbon technology from the laboratory to deployment at scale.” However, the Report emphasizes regulatory solutions, such as standards (Footnote 1) (some of which may be tradable to reduce the cost of reductions – Footnote 2), direct government investment in necessary low-carbon infrastructure (e.g., the electric grid and EV recharging) and R&D, and other “market signals” such as tax credits and subsidies.
As stated, this plan would require government funding of 2 percent of GDP (over $400 billion per year), which will be politically contentious. However, the Report makes clear that “these investments will pay for themselves in new jobs, innovation, and most importantly, avoided costs” (primarily health and climate damages – Footnote 3), indicating the net expense is minimal.
Third broad Democratic proposal
The Senate Democrats’ proposal might best be seen in the context of the other recent Democrat-only offerings: the House Select Committee Climate Action Plan and presidential candidate Joe Biden’s Equitable Clean Energy Future plan.
These three have much in common: they make the case for strong climate action and agree on zero net-emissions by 2050; they insist policies must create abundant jobs that can be unionized and pay good wages; and that environmental justice concerns are a priority. They illuminate a vision of America’s ingenuity and capacity for innovation, and that these objectives are challenging, but that this nation is capable if we come together to achieve them.
Specific policy solutions for reducing emissions range from reasonably specific (the House) to vague (Biden). The House and Senate make clear that a carbon price is an option, though Biden does not mention it in his plan.
These proposals may constitute an initial outline of a progressive climate policy proposal to be advanced next year. However, unlike the Energy Innovation Act and other carbon pricing bills before Congress, significant additional detail is required for any to become actual legislation (though the House proposal mentions as examples several bills that have been introduced).
How the report impacts our advocacy
Could CCL support a climate proposal that resembles these? CCL is open to supporting any strong climate policy that can greatly reduce emissions and does not harm low- and middle-income Americans. We prefer to achieve those goals through carbon fee and dividend and will continue to work hard to enact it, because 1) it is the type of policy more likely to achieve broader, bipartisan support, making it more durable over time; 2) a carbon price means emission reductions are achieved at lower cost than a regulatory approach, and this is better for the economy, and 3) it benefits the poor and most vulnerable.
However, CCL’s overarching objective is to build political will for good climate policy. How exactly that looks may depend on the scenario we find ourselves in after the 2020 election. To learn more about what CCL might do in the case of various election outcomes, check out this recent blog post. For now, it’s safe to say that the SCCC Report is an encouraging signal about the national climate conversation!
- Important examples of climate-related standards are a clean energy standard (CES) in the electric sector, CAFE standards in transportation and industrial emissions standard in industry.
- For example, a CES may involve clean energy credits that are tradable (think cap and trade). This gives firms flexibility as to how emission reductions are achieved, and so generally lowers the cost of doing so.
- CCL makes a similar case, stating that the Energy Innovation Act would be good for people and the economy, and that the benefits of the policy (reduced health and climate damages) far outweigh any costs.
Jerry Hinkle is a research coordinator for CCL.