As the Green New Deal hits resistance in the U.S. Senate, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are rolling out alternative legislation and action plans to address climate change.
But the U.S. Congress is far from coalescing around a unified strategy, with key lawmakers still gathering input on potential policies and Republicans pushing more incremental plans than Democrats to deal with global warming.
Much of the climate debate on Capitol Hill in 2019 has centered on the Green New Deal resolution co-sponsored by progressive freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The far-reaching proposal seeks a complete shift to renewable, "clean" or emissions-free electric power, drastic cuts in carbon emissions from other sectors of the U.S. economy, and jobs and healthcare commitments for all Americans.
Republicans instantly opposed the resolution, while moderate Democrats have urged more bipartisan measures to tackle climate change. On March 26, not a single Senator backed a procedural measure that would have brought the resolution up for a vote on the Senate floor, due both to the GOP's objections to the resolution and Democrats' desire to first hold hearings and other debate on potentially implementing the Green New Deal.
The vote has not tempered Democrats' hopes of dealing with climate change, and it created space for alternative bills from both parties on the issue.
On March 27, a day after the Senate blocked the vote on the Green New Deal resolution, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced a new Senate Democrats' Special Committee on Climate Change. Schumer attributed the move to the "refusal" by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to schedule a vote on a Democratic resolution to form a bipartisan select committee on climate change.
"Senate Democrats are going to push to address climate change at every opportunity — in the budget, in infrastructure, when we do tax extenders," Schumer said. "This is such a crisis, we're looking for any way we can move it forward. And even though we're in the minority at certain points in the process, we have leverage, and we're going to use it for climate."
Also on March 27, a group of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released H.R. 9, or the Climate Action Now Act. The bill proposes to make the U.S. honor its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change despite President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the pact. The legislation also "lays the groundwork for further action to expand clean energy and address the climate crisis," according to a news release.
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., who chairs the newly formed House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said committees of jurisdiction will mark up the legislation "in the coming weeks," after which the full House will vote on the bill.
H.R. 9 is just one of several congressional climate proposals either introduced in recent months or in the pipeline. Rep. Paul Tonko, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, has pitched forming a two-tracked approach to climate change that eventually will include a proposal to price carbon emissions.
More immediately, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., plan to introduce a new carbon "cap and dividend" proposal March 28. That bill will follow separate carbon dividend legislation a bipartisan group of House lawmakers rolled out in January.
Beyer is a co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition's climate change task force. The group, which includes over 100 moderate House Democrats, promotes "fiscally responsible" policies aimed at unifying Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Each of the coalition's four climate task force co-chairs has expressed reservations on the Green New Deal, including its call for a 10-year transition to decarbonizing the power sector.
Consensus still lacking
Republicans, who have been more vocal lately in acknowledging climate change than in recent years, also are forming tentative policy frameworks. But they have released fewer actual climate bills in 2019 than Democrats, opting instead for broad platforms for future legislation. Those platforms have been more inclusive of fossil fuels and promoted innovation on advanced energy technologies rather than a cap or price on emissions.
On March 27, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., launched the House Energy Action Team, or HEAT, which will seek to support "all-of-the-above energy resources," a rebuke of the Green New Deal's focus on renewable and other nonemitting forms of power.
One of HEAT's first initiatives will be filing a discharge petition to bring the House resolution backing the Green New Deal up for a floor vote to "put all Democrats on record" regarding the proposal, according to a release from Scalise's office. The group will also encourage "continued utilization of existing abundant energy resources," investments in nuclear energy and "market-driven" development of renewable facilities.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is retiring from Congress after the 2020 elections, recently released a plan called "One Republican's Response to Climate Change" that promoted doubling federal energy research funds in the next five years. The proposal also would direct several energy "challenges" to support advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture, electric vehicles and other lower-emitting energy resources.
"If we want to do something about climate change, we should use American research and technology to provide the rest of the world with tools to create low-cost energy that emits fewer greenhouse gases," Alexander said.
Democrats have supported increased federal research dollars as well but said that alone will not be enough.
"The Republicans want to solve this problem with belief in the innovation fairy," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said during the March 27 launch of the new Senate Democratic select climate committee. "You can't just say the word innovation. You've got to change the economic structure that will allow innovation to develop."