Powerful N.J. congressman reveals sweeping new plan to tackle climate change

Posted Mar 02, 2021

The most powerful New Jerseyan in Congress is spearheading a sweeping plan to fight climate change and lay a foundation for a cleaner economy in America.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th Dist., on Tuesday introduced the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act — an expansive, nearly 1,000 page bill that would set national greenhouse gas reduction targets and establish a framework for reshaping the nation’s economy while pushing initiatives to boost public health and environmental justice.

It’s a plan that’s expected to cost $565 billion over a ten year period.

“For the sake of the American people, our economy and our public health we have to act boldly and that’s what we intend to do,” Pallone said on a call with reporters, emphasizing that China and other countries are already pushing forward regardless of what the United States does.

Pallone is a critical figure in American environmental policy thanks to his role as the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The CLEAN Future Act sets a national target of achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with an interim goal of cutting emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. Those targets are in line with recommendations from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Such emissions slashing is seen as critical to slow the effects of climate change, which has been fueled by the burning of fossil fuels.

To reach those targets, the CLEAN Future Act incorporates a variety of strategies targeting power production, energy efficiency, the transportation sector, industry pollution and waste reduction. That includes:

  • Establishing a national Clean Energy Standard to bring the nation to 100% clean energy generation by 2035.
  • Sending grants to local communities for energy efficiency programs, including $8 billion for home retrofits and $500 million for workforce training.
  • Expanding America’s electric vehicle infrastructure, including spending $2.5 billion annually to replace diesel school buses with zero-emission models.
  • Creating a Buy Clean Program to reduce emissions from materials used in federal construction projects.
  • Using new regulations to slash methane pollution from oil and gas production.
  • Writing new regulations on plastic manufacturers, and pausing permits for new plastics facilities until such regulations are in place.

The bill also includes policies to support workers and communities that will need to transition from long-standing but declining industries like coal mining.

“We’re not leaving anyone behind here. We’re offering a vision for America’s future,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-New York, another bill sponsor.

The CLEAN Future Act also has measures dedicated to environmental justice, including allocating 40% of the bill’s spending toward communities that have long been overburdened with unfair shares of pollution.

“Through policies that will create millions of new, good paying jobs and reduce pollution in historically overburdened communities, this legislation drives our country further down the path toward a much-needed clean energy transition — and does so with equity and social justice at its center,” said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, the bill’s third sponsor.

Tucked into the environmental justice section is a plan to replace every lead service line in the country, at no cost to the homeowner, something Newark and Essex County may serve as national models for. There’s also a call to prioritize the cleanup of polluted Superfund sites threatened by flooding or wildfires. New Jersey has the nation’s highest number of Superfund sites.

Democrats are able to move legislation through the House without Republican support, but major packages like the CLEAN Future Act can require 60 votes to pass in the Senate thanks to existing filibuster rules. That makes turning this bill into reality tricky, given the chamber’s 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats can use a process called budget reconciliation to pass legislation with a simple majority or with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker. The current COVID-19 relief proposal, which is before the Senate, is an example of this.

Pallone said he intends to move the CLEAN Future Act forward through the normal legislative process, saying he hopes “the Republicans will participate so we don’t have to go through reconciliation.” But he declined to rule out pursuing reconciliation.

The Clean Future Act was praised by leaders of environmental groups who said it is package urgently needed.

“It harnesses our ingenuity, resources and determination at the scale needed to curb the growing climate crisis. It will invest in good-paying jobs for workers transitioning away from fossil fuels to clean transportation and energy. It will strive to shield communities from health and economic harm wrought by climate change,” Jake Thompson, managing director for government affairs for Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement.

“And it will send an unmistakable signal to our children and future generations we won’t doom them to ever-worsening droughts, floods, wildfires, extreme heat and punishing storms.”

A trio of House Republicans — Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, Fred Upton, R-Michigan, and David McKinley, R-West Virigina — slammed the bill as a rush to force “one-size-fits all” regulations on the country.

“We can pursue practical policies to innovate a cleaner energy future if we work together,” the Republicans said in a statement. “Rather than threaten millions of jobs and hold back America’s economic recovery, we urge the Majority to join us in a bipartisan way to unleash innovation, strengthen our supply chains, and capture all the advantages of our abundant resources, which include coal, hydropower, nuclear technologies, and clean natural gas.”

Rush told reporters the bill’s sponsors welcome input and ideas from across the aisle, but stressed the end goal of slashing emissions to zero by 2050 cannot be changed.

“That remains the greatest gulf, the greatest obstacle. They’ve got to come closer,” Rush said of Republican lawmakers. “They’ve got to come to where we are.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-03-03 02:25:50 -0800