Climate-conscious lawmakers are stumped on how to tackle carbon dioxide emissions at the federal level after President Trump’s decision to pull the plug on U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement — but a few proposals are showing new signs of life.
In the seven days following Trump’s White House Rose Garden announcement, nearly a dozen House members added their names to bipartisan legislation introduced by Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) that would reinstitute expired tax credits for multiple low-carbon energy technologies.
Since February, 50 Republicans and 37 Democrats have endorsed H.R. 1090, which is meant to extend incentives for "orphan" technologies left out of a 2015 budget deal (Greenwire, Feb. 16). GOP Reps. Ken Calvert of California and Mike Simpson of Idaho
added their names to the bill on June 2, one day after Trump announced his decision.
Others have turned their focus from CO2 to short-lived contributors to climate change.
Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) yesterday introduced the bipartisan "Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Act," or "SUPER Act," which deals not with carbon dioxide but with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), methane, black carbon and other emissions that remain in the atmosphere for a short time but trap far more heat than CO2.
Peters said the bill, backed by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and four other Democrats in the Climate Solutions Caucus, "demonstrates the growing bipartisan will in Congress to act on climate" in the wake of the Paris exit.
"Super pollutants are the low-hanging fruit in the fight to slow climate change," Peters said in a statement on the measure.
The bill would establish an interagency task force to include U.S. EPA and the departments of Energy, the Interior, Commerce, State, Transportation, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. The group would be tasked with coordinating and improving federal programs aimed at limiting short-lived climate pollutants.
"While the focus is always on carbon, we need a full picture of all emissions that diminish our ozone, impact our climate and accelerate sea-level rise," Curbelo said. "This task force would be a significant first step to ensuring that our nation has all the information needed to accurately protect our environment from these pollutants."
In the Senate, the response has been more sharply partisan. Democrats touted a resolution introduced last month that calls on the U.S. to cooperate with the international community and take a leadership role on climate.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who led a delegation to the 2015 Paris climate talks, announced last week that he was "exploring legislative solutions to mitigate the damage the president seeks," in a statement blasting Trump’s decision.
But Cardin hasn’t yet found Republicans who would be interested in signing onto legislation, an aide told E&E News yesterday.
Mark Reynolds, executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, called for GOP senators who were once champions on the issue to take Trump’s Paris pullout as an opportunity to "reassert their leadership" by fighting for a revenue-neutral fee on carbon.
GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona cast the deciding votes that blocked repeal of an Obama-era rule to regulate methane waste on public lands (Greenwire, May 10).
Reynolds wrote the vote "stirred the embers of their once-burning passion to preserve a world that is hospitable to future generations," in an analysis that noted the trio’s past leadership on legislation to deal with carbon emissions. "That is the legacy these three hoped to achieve years ago, a legacy that is still within their reach," Reynolds said.
Some state delegations have directed their energy toward the governor’s mansion.
New Hampshire’s four congressional Democrats — Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster — wrote a letter to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Wednesday.
"Governor, we write in support of New Hampshire joining the U.S. Climate Alliance. It is vital that the Granite State continues to be a leader on climate change and clean energy," the members wrote.
Sununu announced New Hampshire would not join a growing number of governors, including four from New England, in the U.S. Climate Alliance, which aims to uphold the U.S. pledge to cut emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. He said New Hampshire, including its businesses, takes environmental stewardship seriously, and he doesn’t need to sign a piece of paper to continue that tradition.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) received a similar piece of mail from 11 Democrats who represent the Land of Lincoln in the House.
"Because it is good for the residents of Illinois and because it is the right thing to do, we feel that the State of Illinois should publicly commit to do its part to meet the existing Paris Agreement goals with or without formal U.S. participation in the Agreement, and to subsequently take actions to do so," read the letter, led by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).
"Thirteen other states, as well as 175 cities, including Chicago, have already taken this step. … We owe it to the people of our state to act with the urgency required to address this threat head-on and we must take the action necessary to protect our state — and our planet — for future generations, regardless of the Trump Administration’s recent decision," they wrote.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel formally announced Wednesday the city’s support of the Paris climate agreement as he welcomed mayors and leaders from around the world for a three-day conference about the global role of cities.
Partisanship on display
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) responded to the Paris withdrawal announcement by reintroducing legislation meant to prevent the Export-Import Bank of the United States from funding overseas coal- or oil-fueled power plants.
The bill would limit Ex-Im Bank funding to projects that produce less than 500 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt-hour. Many coal and oil plants without carbon capture technology would not qualify.
Huffman in a statement blasted Trump’s "hasty" call on Paris as "a complete abdication of America’s leadership in the fight against carbon pollution."
"While some in Washington pursue a dirty energy agenda at home and abroad, Congress can still take action to reduce carbon pollution," Huffman said. "The Standing Against Dirty Diplomacy Act will help get America back on the right track: building a clean energy future by cutting off the billions of dollars we are wasting on dirty coal boondoggles abroad."
The measure has no co-sponsors.
Brookings Institution senior fellow Philip Wallach assessed the aftermath of the Paris pullout as a direct function of the partisan politics surrounding climate policy in the U.S., rather than particularly tied to Trump.
Trump administration officials already made it clear that they were going to wipe out climate regulations, Wallach said during an event earlier this week hosted by the Cross-Brookings Initiative on Energy and Climate. What’s happening now is a consequence of climate activists in the U.S. writing off the possibility of winning Republican support for carbon-cutting policies during the Obama administration.
"The policies are the policies; the Paris goal is the Paris goal," Wallach said. "One doesn’t necessarily flow out of the other."