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Time for Congress to Take the Lead on Climate: Three Key Takeaways from the Select Committee’s Report on the Climate Crisis

Climate change has been a looming threat for decades. Continued delays to take action that would reduce emissions here in the United States, the world’s largest historical emitter, mean that today even more aggressive and more comprehensive action is needed.

Yesterday, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis provided a roadmap for Congress to meet the climate change threat. The report recognizes the importance of federal actions to reduce super pollutants like methane, takes a look at how suites of complementary policies can move us in the right direction in areas such as transportation, and identifies solutions for providing firm, zero-emission power generation. But most important of all, this report sets an ambitious goal: Congress should take action immediately to get the United States on track to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by mid-century. There are three key ways Congress now move forward.  First, one

of the most important ways to get on track to a net-zero emissions economy by mid-century is with a technology inclusive approach. Funding research, demonstration and deployment for new technologies that could provide needed solutions in hard-to-reach sectors, such as carbon capture and storage for the decarbonization of industrial facilities, will be necessary to meet the scale of the climate challenge. By taking many of the actions laid out in the Select Committee’s report, Congress can not only set out on the right track for a net-zero carbon economy – we can be on track for a recovery that will establish the United States as a global leader in emerging clean technologies.

Cleaning up electricity remains an important precursor for decarbonizing the rest our economy. As the Select Committee report lays out, most end use sectors will rely on clean electricity – vehicles and transportation, buildings, and even parts of industry. To support this transition and provide economic certainty, Congress should explore the use of a clean electricity standard. There are already several pieces of legislation and areas of discussion in Congress right now – including the CLEAN Future Act – that serve as models. A clean electricity standard is not a big lift – more than half of Americans live in a jurisdiction that already has a clean electricity mandate or whose electric utility has committed to deep decarbonization by midcentury. Bringing this policy to the forefront of the federal debate would simply reinforce what is already happening across the United States.

Second, this report builds on this recommendation by recognizing that important sectors of the economy may not be able to be electrified.  Beyond electrification, the report prioritizes the development of zero-carbon fuels for transportation and industrial applications and carbon capture for industrial decarbonization.

Finally, the report calls needed attention to environmental and climate justice. The Committee recognizes in the Preface to the report that marches in our streets have demanded action against police brutality, and decades of unchecked systemic racism requires those of us in the environmental movement to stand with frontline Black and brown communities. Not only have Clean Air Task Force’s reports found that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by power plantsdiesel exhaust, and toxic air pollution from unconventional oil and gas development, we expect continued health research to strengthen the link between the high death rate among Black communities due to COVID-19 and a legacy of particulate matter pollution. Black lives matter, and no one should breathe dirtier air because of the color of their skin. As Congress considers taking up climate legislation after the release of the Select Committee’s report, we should all stand behind those who have fought for environment and climate justice – and do our part to advance those goals.

While acknowledging the immediate challenges posed by COVID-19 and the need to focus on racial justice, yesterday’s report rightly recognizes that “we cannot wait” to address climate change. The climate crisis is a present and future threat that has revealed the consequences of broader historical neglect. It’s time for Congress to lead and take the necessary actions to spur economic recovery through building clean energy infrastructure, in conjunction with adopting safeguards to prevent the worst effects of climate change and support frontline communities. The Select Committee report points the way.