The House of Representatives’ Special Select Committee on the Climate Crisis has finally released its long-awaited plan to tackle the climate crisis. It’s a 547-page roadmap for an “all hands-on deck” approach to putting the U.S. on a path to net-zero carbon pollution by midcentury, which is what the world’s leading climate scientists tell us is necessary to avert a climate catastrophe. Importantly, the House Plan puts justice and equity at the core of its recommendations for a comprehensive climate policy package.
The House plan is a tour de force and should be required reading for anybody that thinks that the government should be doing more to avert a climate crisis (which is two thirds of Americans based on recent Pew poll). After sorting through the 12 pillars, 547 pages, and hundreds of policy recommendations, below are three key takeaways from the report.
Key Takeaway #1: House Plan confirms big solutions are renewables, efficiency and electrification.
One of biggest challenges to solving the climate crisis is the sprawling nature of the problem. But there is widespread agreement, including NRDC’s own analysis, that three fundamental solutions, renewable, energy efficiency, and electrification of end uses, are the keys to a successful energy transition and to driving down energy-related CO2 emissions. The House plan notes:
Decarbonization of the electricity sector is the linchpin of any national strategy to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050. Electrification of key end uses in the transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors will be essential to cut emissions from those sectors. Electrification only works as a decarbonization strategy, however, if the grid is as clean as possible as soon as possible. Energy efficiency can moderate the expected increase in electricity demand from electrification and reduce energy costs for consumers.
Analysis of the plan’s key policy regulation by non-partisan think tank Energy Innovation demonstrate that these three solutions deliver the vast majority of the 2050 reductions, over four million metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions or about 80 percent of the identified reductions (see figure below from their report):
- Scaling up renewables through a 100% Clean Energy Standard reduces greenhouse gas emissions form power plants by a little over 1,000 million metric tons by 2050.
- Increasing energy efficiency and converting buildings and vehicles to run 100% on electricity reduces greenhouse gas emissions by a little over 1,000 million metric tons by 2050.
- Increasing energy efficiency, direct electrification, and green hydrogen use (a form of indirect electrification since the hydrogen is produced from electricity) reduces greenhouse emissions by a little under 2,000 million metric tons by 2050.
There are other important measures:
- The control of global warming “super pollutants”, methane and HFCs (a refrigerant), reduces greenhouse emissions by about 500 million metric tons.
- Sustainable agriculture and better management of forest are conservatively estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 200 million metric tons.
Key Takeaway #2: House plan focuses on sector-specific packages of standards and public investments, rather than a single “silver bullet”.
Since the failure of the economy-wide, cap-and-trade bills in the Senate over ten years ago, there has not been clarity on what is the most viable federal climate policy approach. The House Plan points the way forward by focusing its recommendations on sector-specific, market transformation using a package of known, proven policy solutions.
While it does recommend an economy-wide price on carbon, the Plan recognizes that this is not a “silver bullet” and should not be the only or primary solution. Instead for each of the main sectors (power, building, transportation, and industrial), the Plan recommends a combination of standards and public investments.
Many of the key performance standards have either been either been adopted or proposed at the state and federal levels:
- For power plants, a combination of greenhouse gas pollution limits on power plants, and a Clean Energy Standard (CES) or Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). 31 states already have a RPS, and four states have 100 percent clean energy laws.
- For the buildings, a combination of building codes, appliance efficiency standards, and an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) on utilities, tax incentives for energy efficient and electric equipment. 26 states already have a EERS.
- For transportation, combination of greenhouse gas pollution limits on cars and trucks, and a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) on transportation fuels, tax incentives for purchase of electric vehicles, public investments in charging networks. 14 states have greenhouse gas standards on cars, 12 states have ZEV programs, and 2 states have a LCFS.
- For industry, greenhouse gas pollution limits on energy intensive manufacturing sectors and oil & gas wells and phase out of HFCs. 23 states are enacting policies to phase out HFCs.
The key public investments needed to overcome market barriers to clean energy are:
- Clean Infrastructure. Invest in modern, clean infrastructure including a smarter, more resilient electricity grid, and an ubiquitous electric vehicle charging network.
- Deployment Incentives. Tax incentives, rebates, and grants for deployment of energy efficiency, renewables, electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, building electrification and other clean energy technologies.
- Manufacturing Incentives. Incentives to retool, expand or establish factories to build clean energy technologies, including electric vehicles and components.
- Accelerating Innovation. Funding for research and development of energy storage, zero carbon transportation fuel, and other advanced clean energy technologies.
The Congress has an opportunity to put a down payment on those investments when the House passed an ambitious infrastructure bill, H.R.2, the Moving America Forward Act. This measure would make much-needed investments in mass transit, pedestrian-friendly development and electric vehicle charging stations, while at the same time spurring clean energy deployment and addressing our aging water infrastructure.
Key Takeaway #3: House plan recognizes that good-paying jobs and equity and justice must be at the center of any serious climate action plan.
The past several months has made it abundantly clear why any serious plan to tackle the climate crisis, must also address the systemic economic and racial inequities that plague our communities today. Consequently, the House Plan’s puts justice and equity at its core by offering policy recommendations that provide tangible benefits to communities facing disproportionate pollution burdens and climate risk and create good-paying, high-quality jobs for all Americans. Some of the key policies are:
- Ensure new jobs in the clean energy economy are high-quality, good-paying jobs by strengthening workers’ rights to organize a union and ensuring federal spending for clean energy only supports projects that meet high-road labor standards.
- Direct the Environmental Protection Agency to analyze and address cumulative pollution impacts on disadvantaged communities.
- Prioritize low-income communities and communities of color for clean energy investment to maximize the access to clean energy and the reduction of cumulative pollution burdens on these communities, including large-scale home weatherization and efficiency programs, electrification of ports and goods movement to zero out diesel pollution, and greater access to solar energy for low-income families and public housing.
NRDC is proud to be part of alliances and forums committed to fighting for equitable and effective climate solutions. NRDC has endorsed the BlueGreen Alliance’s Solidarity for Climate Action platform, a document that recognizes the link between economic security for workers and a livable environment. And we are a signatory to the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, which advances the goals of economic, racial, climate and environmental justice. We are glad to see that these documents helped shape the House Plan’s priorities and policy proposals.
House Plan Rises to Challenge
The 2020’s must be the decade for climate action. As many experts have pointed out, we don’t have ten years to act to avert the worst impacts of climate change. An overwhelming 67% of Americans say the federal government is not doing enough to protect the climate. And 25 states, 534 local governments, and 2,008 businesses representing 65% of all Americans have already committed to taking action ahead of the federal government. By offering this bold, comprehensive roadmap, House leaders are rising to the challenge of the climate crisis and advancing solutions for a healthier, more prosperous and more equitable future.
For more on NRDC’s perspective on the House Plan:
- NRDC President Gina McCarthy’s statement, June 30, 2020
- House Climate Plan Offers Bold Vision for the Future, July 1, 2020
- Point of View: US House Plan call to action on climate change is the right plan for Florida, Th Palm Beach Post, Op-ed by Gina McCarthy, July 6, 2020
- “A Pivotal Moment for Sustainable Transportation” by Ann Shikany
- “House Climate Plan Takes Aim at Flooding and Sea Level Rise” by Rob Moore
- “Health on Center Stage in House Climate Crisis Climate Action Plan" by Juanita Constible
- “Clean Energy Standards: What We Like Them & What We Look For”, Derek Murrow & Ben Longstreth & Sam Krasnow
- [Links to additional NRDC expert analysis will be posted here in the future]