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House Energy and Commerce Democrats Release Omnibus Climate Bill

Senior Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a discussion draft of their omnibus climate bill on January 28. The 622-page Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act (or CLEAN Future Act—not to be confused with the CLEAN Act introduced last year) contains scores of policies intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The committee also provided a 22-page summary to make it easier to sort them all out.

The draft bill begins by declaring that “it is the national goal for the United States to achieve a 100% clean economy by not later than 2050.” A 100% clean economy is later defined as “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, or negative greenhouse gas emissions.” The head of every federal agency is charged with developing a plan to achieve this goal. The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is charged with reviewing and coordinating these plans and then monitoring them and making regular progress reports to Congress. The Administrator is going to be a busy as well as powerful person.

Many sections of the bill are recycled versions of previously introduced bills, but some are new. The bill sets up a credit auction system for electric utilities, creates programs to modernize the grid so that it can handle more renewable energy, requires tighter energy efficiency building codes, provides lots of new grant programs, and requires annual improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency of at least 6 percent. The bill also requires states to develop their own climate plans, creates a national climate bank, and contains lengthy and complex provisions to achieve environmental justice.

The bill does allow for at least some nuclear and hydro power and for carbon capture and storage. The latter means that coal, oil, and natural gas could continue to be used to some minimal extent.

It is provisions like these that should provoke strong opposition from environmental pressure groups. The initial reaction, however, has been muted. Press releases from big establishment groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund were noncommittal but generally positive. The Sunrise Movement, which is one of the main groups promoting the Green New Deal, has not yet sent out a press release. Ari Natter of Bloomberg did find a few critical comments from environmentalists.

The release of the draft bill by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), chairmen of the environment and energy subcommittees, respectively, comes more than a month before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is likely to release their bill. Axios has reported that House Republican leaders are likely to release their package of climate bills in early February.

On the Senate side, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I—VT) introduced a bill, S. 3247, on January 28 to ban hydraulic fracturing.