Representative Sean Casten

Representing the 6th District of Illinois

Moderate House Dems Unveil 'Market-Based' Emissions Plan

August 8, 2019
In The News

A coalition of moderate Democrats is backing a climate plan that could draw interest from the business community for relying on carbon pricing and other market-based approaches to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The House's New Democrat Coalition, a caucus of about 100 centrist Democrats, released its principles today for addressing climate change, which the group called "a threat to the health, national security, economic prosperity, and future of our people and planet."

The 11-page document does not endorse any specific legislation but stresses the economic cost of inaction at more than $500 billion by the end of this century.

"Not all the solutions suggested here are flashy, but they are serious, market-driven, and address the problem head on," said Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), the co-chairman of the New Democrat Coalition's Climate Change Task Force who also sits on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The plan calls for three broad goals: making the United States a global leader in fighting climate change, transitioning the economy to one focused on pro-climate incentives and jobs, and investing in community resilience and relief efforts.

The group does not set a deadline for any legislation, although its overarching goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 matches a framework for a climate bill recently released by top Energy and Commerce Democrats. Those committee lawmakers say they hope to have a bill drafted by the end of the year (E&E News PM, July 23).

The most unique feature of the coalition's effort may be their openness to carbon pricing to help cut emissions, a proposal that has drawn interest in the business community and was not specifically called for by E&C leaders in their rollout last month.

"We support policies that can guide market behavior and help spur the clean energy transition by promoting affordable and reliable low-carbon energy sources and technologies," states the New Democrat proposal, emphasizing the need for "strong and stable price signals" through carbon pricing, deploying and investing in low-carbon technologies, and setting clear greenhouse gas emission standards and targets.

New Democrats argue "market based" policies are already working at the state and regional levels to reduce emissions. Specifically, they cited California's cap-and-trade system and renewable energy standards being pursued by multiple states.

The proposal states it's "not path dependent" on any single technology or energy source to help reach its 2050 goal. Instead, it opens the door to carbon capture and removal technologies, nuclear energy, "nature-based solutions" including agriculture and reforestation, and renewable energy.

It says some of those technologies would result from expanded federal research and development investments, including at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

On helping communities adapt to climate resilience, the plan does not offer a specific price tag, although it sites a statistic that shows for every $1 invested in pre-disaster mitigation projects, $6 in disaster costs are averted.

The coalition's effort is less aggressive than the progressive Green New Deal, which calls for an unprecedented economic mobilization to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. While a House resolution calling for enacting the GND has 94 sponsors, the New Democrat Coalition has 101 members.

Some Democrats have been less than enthusiastic about backing the GND, worrying it would have dim prospects in the Senate and could hurt the party's moderates. In that sense, the New Democrat proposal aims for a sweet spot between a call for action with ideas, including carbon pricing, that have some bipartisan support.

"We aim to make immediate progress toward our decarbonization goals by building bridges to groups historically resistant to facing the reality and magnitude of this threat, and accomplishing real, tangible, legislative progress that unleashes the economic opportunities of addressing the current and future impacts of climate change," the New Democrat plan states.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the coalition and an E&C member, also hinted at striking that bipartisan balance, saying the group is pushing "achievable policies that will protect our planet, health, and communities for future generations."

Click here for a summary of the plan.