House Leads on Climate Crisis as Political Heat Builds

The House of Representatives is set this week to pass its first major climate legislation in 10 years.

Championed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and sponsored by 225 members, H.R. 9, the “Climate Action Now Act,” is a first step to address the climate crisis and the rapidly rising public demand for climate action. The Speaker’s decision to make this one of the House’s first ten bills underscores the majority’s commitment to solving the climate crisis.

Driven by epic storms and wildfires, record heat, and blockbuster science reports on the deepening danger, Americans’ views on climate change have shifted sharply. A raft of recent polls show rising concern over the climate crisis across generational, geographic, and partisan lines (Gallup, AP-NORCYale-George MasonMonmouthFoxNewsWSJ/NBC). The fast-growing Sunrise Movement and the momentum behind a Green New Deal show how deeply young people are engaged in protecting their own future. 

Americans now understand that climate change is no longer far in the future and far away. It is here and now and in our own backyards. The human and financial costs are piling up. The number of extreme weather-related events costing more than $1 billion a year has sharply risen since 1980. More than $300 billion in damages in 2017 shattered the previous U.S. record, set in 2005. Damages in 2018, not fully totaled yet, were very likely higher still.

In short, climate change itself is changing the politics of climate change. And political leaders are moving ahead.

H.R. 9 recognizes the urgency to act now, and it takes two critical steps to keep the United States on track to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark 2015 agreement that united the world to begin tackling the greatest environmental threat facing our planet.    

First, H.R. 9 uses Congress’s power of the purse to push back on President Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. By providing that no money may be spent for that purpose, the bill makes harder for Trump to follow through on his plan to withdraw the day after the 2020 election, which is by coincidence the earliest date when a party may leave the international climate accord. 

Second, H.R. 9 directs the President to develop and submit to Congress a national plan to make good on the central U.S. commitment under the Paris Agreement—to cut America’s emissions of heat-trapping pollution by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. In addition, it directs him to report to Congress on how the administration will use the agreement’s strong transparency and accountability mechanisms—which Trump’s negotiators helped develop—to confirm that other countries are meeting their commitments.

It’s a simple, and bold, statement of a fundamental change in our country’s direction. It’s time to stop dismissing climate change as a hoax and to stop rolling back clean car, clean power, and other climate protections already on the books. Instead, it’s time to face the science and lean into the transition to an equitable American economy based on clean energy and pollution-free cars, power plants, industries, and homes.

That transition is underway in more and more states and cities. Since the midterms, the U.S. Climate Alliance has grown to 24 states representing the majority of the U.S. population—Pennsylvania, the newest member, joined just this week. In the last two months, Washington State and New Mexico adopted 100 percent clean electricity mandates, joining California, Hawaii, New York, and Maine with similar goals and standards. Nevada enacted legislation to reach 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030. Virginia will soon be the first southern state to cap carbon pollution from its power plants, joining its neighbors from Maine to Maryland.  Colorado joined 13 other states in adopting strong standards and incentives for clean cars and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Midwestern governors held their first climate action conclave in a decade, and clean energy is surging across the Midwest

Cities are also leading the charge on climate change while also creating jobs, protecting public health, and improving the quality of life for their citizens. From the heartland to the coasts, cities are pledging to meet the Paris climate goals. Cities like St. Louis and Cincinnati are working with the private sector to drive down energy use in big buildings. Leaders in Columbus, Ohio, are creating a workforce development program for energy efficiency auditors that includes a focus on neighborhoods with the highest rates of energy poverty. Indianapolis, Charlotte and San Antonio are creating new clean transit options to reduce transportation pollution. Mayors in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge are expecting to cut carbon pollution by at least 40 million metric tons by 2025 while making a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment for residents.

Coal barons and right-wing think tanks aside, American business has largely ignored President Trump’s invitation to turn back the clock. The power industry is shedding coal plants and shifting to renewable energy at a record pace. The car industry has not embraced the administration’s wholesale rollback of clean car and fuel economy standards. Clean energy already supports more than three million jobs across the country—more than are employed by the fossil fuel industry—and those jobs are growing fast. 

All of this climate action, from H.R. 9 to state and city leadership, signals the rest of the world that President Trump does not speak for the majority of Americans. Trump may have hoped his pledge to leave Paris would lead to a rush to the exits. But no other country has followed suit. Last December, countries finalized specific transparency and accountability rules to guide national climate efforts over the next decade. Indeed, H.R. 9 instructs the President to hold other countries accountable to their commitments under these Paris transparency rules. 

Notably, action continues in China and India—with the U.S., the world’s largest carbon polluters. China has the world’s largest installed capacity of wind and solar—more than twice that in the US. China has more than four times the electric vehicles driving on roads in California, and the vast majority of the world’s electric buses. And even though coal consumption in China has risen a bit the last couple of years, it is still below the peak level of 2013.

India is pulling millions of people out of poverty while following a lower carbon trajectory. India has set extremely ambitious targets to expand solar capacity from essentially zero in 2009 to 100 gigawatts by 2022. Solar and wind projects in India have now proven more cost-effective than coal-fired power plants, leading companies to rethink planned coal expansions. We are witnessing a growing push towards more electric buses, two- and three-wheelers, and passenger cars.

To be sure, H.R. 9 is only a down payment on an American climate and clean energy agenda. This Congress must start building legislation that charts an ambitious and equitable pathway to reach 100 percent clean energy and net-zero climate pollution before 2050. Leaders in Congress are already hard at work. Rep. Paul Tonko unveiled a set of principles to guide the development of new climate bills. And Rep. Cathy Castor, the lead sponsor of H.R. 9, chairs the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which is charged with developing a comprehensive suite of policy solutions. Climate action will also be woven as building blocks into appropriations, infrastructure, transportation, and other cross-cutting legislation that can pass in this Congress. 

But the vote this week is a big deal. It shows that after a 10-year drought Congress is once again ready to take up action on climate change. H.R. 9 is a clear signal of greater congressional and U.S. domestic action to come. And it’s a step toward America’s rejoining as a partner in the global effort to protect our kids and future generations from climate catastrophe.

About the Authors

David Doniger

Senior Strategic Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Jake Schmidt

Managing Director, International program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.