A new report from Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis calls for comprehensive actions by the U.S. Congress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. as quickly as possible, make communities more resilient to climate change, and build a durable and equitable clean energy economy.
Called “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient and Just America,” the 550-page report contains hundreds of recommendations. Some call it the most far-reaching report on climate change to ever appear on Capitol Hill.
In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless reached the chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Rep. Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat, soon after the report was released by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Castor. It was the second appearance on Columbia Energy Exchange by Rep. Castor, who first sat down with Bill last fall when the committee was still gathering material for the report.
Among the report's specific goals are 100% net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and net negative emissions in the second half of the century. The report would also require a clean energy standard for the electric power sector; a standard to ensure that all light duty vehicles sold by 2035 are zero emission; and similar emission requirements for all new commercial and residential construction by 2030.
It comes after a year of hearings, meetings, research and other actions by the panel to come up with a comprehensive climate strategy. Originally due to be released earlier this year, the report was postponed because of the pandemic.
In their latest discussion, Bill and Rep. Castor talk about the report’s recommendations and the outlook for action on it in Washington at a time when the U.S. is struggling with a pandemic, protests over racial inequality and an economic downturn, not to mention a national election in the fall.
Bill Loveless: Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Bill Loveless. Our guest today is U. S. Representative Kathy Castor, a Florida democrat and the chair of the host select committee on the climate crisis. The democratic majority on that committee is held with a new report calling for sweeping changes, in U. S. policy to address climate change. It’s called Solving the Climate Crisis, the congressional action plan for a clean energy economy and a healthy resilient in JUST America. Covering nearly 550 pages, the report contains hundreds of proposals to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions as quickly and forcefully as possible. Make communities more resilient to climate change and build a durable and equitable clean energy economy.
Among its specific goals are 100% net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And net negative emissions in the second half of the century. The report would also require a clean energy standard for the electric power sector, a standard to ensure that all light duty vehicles sold by 2035 are zero emission and a similar emissions requirements for all new commercial and residential construction by 2030. It comes after a year of hearings, meetings, research and other actions by the panel, to come up with a comprehensive climate strategy. Originally due to be released earlier this year, the report was postponed because of the pandemic.
I reached Representative Castor at her office on Capitol Hill, one day after host speaker Nancy Pelosi and she released this report. I wanted to learn more about this recommendations and its outlook for action in Washington, particularly at a time when the U.S. is struggling with the pandemic protest over racial inequality and in economic downturn, not to imagine a national election in the fall. Well here’s our conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Madam Chair welcome back to Columbia Energy Exchange.
Kathy Castor: Thank you, glad to be back.
Bill Loveless: We spoke last fall, but boy a lot has happened since then.
Kathy Castor: You betted has, we find ourselves in the middle of a public health crisis and forty million Americans out of work and an awakening to systemic racism in America, but the climate crisis goes on.
Bill Loveless: Right, and of course this report now addresses at rather squarely it’s getting a lot of attention, in announcing report the other day host speaker Nancy Pelosi and you, called it a bold step for climate action now, it’s a term you’ve used since you began this work, last year, but what makes it bold?
Kathy Castor: We’re ambitious, it’s also been described by a leading climate watcher as the most detailed and well thought out plan for addressing climate change that has been part of years politics. It’s called Solving the Climate Crisis, the congressional action plan for a clean energy economy and a healthy resilient in JUST America. And just as the title is long our solutions and recommendations are extensive. It’s a road map for the congress to provide a prosperous clean energy economy. And that is our focus.
Bill Loveless: And truly some of the goals of this report are bold I would agree with that, one that, it stands out to me is the goal of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States no later than 2050. It’s a goal that’s actually more aggressive than the inter governmental panel on climate changes called for net zero emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050 and GHDs of course include not on CO2, but nitrous oxide, methane and ozone, what is the rationale for that approach?
Kathy Castor: We’ve got, it’s in all hands on deck moment and that includes tackling the most difficult greenhouse gases, we had extensive recommendations, for methane control for example. And you have to set these ambitious goals for a congress that has been defined by inertia. And if we don’t shoot high we won’t get to our goals and where we need to be, I mean it looks like 2020 is going to be hardest year on record, my -- just last week, my home town of Tampa, Florida sent an all time high temperature record of -- the impacts are going to get worse unless we act right now.
Bill Loveless: Well, I – the – I would like to talk about, more about some of the steps you planned to take to reach that, but let’s look at the timing of this report, it was originally scheduled for completion in March, it was delayed by the pandemic, not surprisingly, and since then we seen not only the pandemic, but racial justice protest sweeping the United States and the world, is this report any different than it might have then in the absence of these developments?
Kathy Castor: We were already focused on environmental justice and workers, fair labor standards for workers, a pathway to these clean energy jobs that we intended to ensure pay a higher wage, a family sustaining wage. But the one area where we did go back as COVID began to spread, in early – in late spring was the public health section, because it became very obvious to us that our supply chains to handle a public health crisis were weak, nonexistent and we’re living with that damage today unfortunately it’s the testing regime is not in place, it’s still difficult to get the personal protective equipment out broadly to folks who needed, who are on the frontline so, we did, boost the public health section.
Bill Loveless: And environmental justice is a prominent topic here, that’s – it’s a topic that’s getting far more attention these days as it should, but what – it’s something to this been lacking in earlier attempts to address climate change by members of congress any number of different entities had been involved in this discussion, what do you think is been lacking in the earlier attempts to address the needs of these communities?
Kathy Castor: You got to listen, we listened to communities and environmental justice leaders all across the country and even though we find ourselves in a moment of awakening of -- to systemic racial injustice, that we had always been moving down this pathway in our report, because we had listened for well over a year that, communities were very tired of being the dumping grounds for industrial plants, they were very tired of dirty air that always seems to accumulate in certain neighborhoods.
So, we built, we’ve embedded environmental justice recommendations throughout the report, not just for the environmental protection agency where they make permitting decisions, or they’re dispersing certain resources, we want to embed this throughout the whole of the U.S. government so, that we can address the legacy pollution that exist across the country. We think that the clean energy economy provides an enormous opportunity to write some wrongs, and you will see our recommendations, help channel that vision.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, what would be a good example of that Madam Chair?
Kathy Castor: For example when it comes to permitting we think that it’s appropriate for the environmental protection agency, another agency is to consider the cumulative impacts of their decisions so, right now for an industrial plant _____ [00:08:31] wants to obtain permit they’re able to analyze the conditions and isolation without an understanding of the cumulative impacts of permitting overtime to certain neighborhoods and communities.
Bill Loveless: If you could, could you walk us through some of the major steps that this report envisions for achieving this goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, there’s a number of, there’s a lots of things in there, there’s hundreds of steps that you’re proposing in this report is quite extensive, but there’s standards here, there’s funding, there’s various actions by government, highlight for us some of the major steps used, that this report includes for getting there?
Kathy Castor: Yeah, it’s quite exciting and then quite ambitious, number one the power sector we have got to clean up, the grid and the goodness is that renewable energy, solar and wind power now the cheapest they’ve ever been, much cheaper than the old fossil fuels of the past so, we set a goal of making our power grid as clean as possible as fast as possible, that’s why we propose a national clean energy standard for -- to get us to net zero emissions in the power sector, by no later than 2040, that is an ambitious goal, but we think based from what we’ve heard from scientist and engineers entirely doable, we need the transmission infrastructure there are a lot of the renewable resources exist between the rocky mountains and the Mississippi River and we’ve got to connect up our, and build the modern super grid, a macro grid to serve a modern country, modern America.
Bill Loveless: And even on the power sector there are some as you know and then some of the advocates of the green new deal initially we’re calling for reliance on renewable and clean energy even entirely even sooner than that, but do you think it need a little bit more time.
Kathy Castor: If we can get there sooner, we should because there will be other sectors of the economy that will be more difficult to decarbonize that’s why we say get there as fast as possible and this decade is critical, we have to be well along their, well along our way to decarbonizing the power sector.
Bill Loveless: Transportation is a big issue on the report as well it calls for sales of non emission vehicles only by 2035.
Kathy Castor: Another ambitious goal, but unleashing American ingenuity we can do this, we have to make our economy as efficient as possible, and as fast as possible so, we are calling for selling only zero emission cars, after 2035, and double we think we will have a vaccine for COVID and public transit will be very important, we want to double our investment in public transit. Give people more options to get from A to B, we also, there’s no awakening across the country to how our pedestrian, how we build communities, you have to connect up safe pedestrian pathways, bicycle paths and make sure that you’re constructing communities in a way that strengths the carbon footprint.
Bill Loveless: Do you have any second thoughts on transportation, just given what we’ve seen during the pandemic where people are weary of taking public transportation something that you and your colleagues there have considered an important element of clean transportation going forward.
Kathy Castor: No, public transportation would be vital and this, the great pause that COVID has forced upon us, has been a – an important opportunity for transit systems to make themselves more resilient to climate impacts, it’s been a nice way for them to repair and well the traffic has been, has not been as great, but I think looking out in the coming decades we’re going to have to have robust public transportation systems and this is what an environmental justice issue as well in my Tampa Bay area, in my community, we don’t have a robust transit system where the largest metro area in the country without light rail, and folks at the business college at the University of South Florida, say that public transit is a way out of poverty. That our wages would be higher, in the Tampa Bay area, if we had a robust transit system, where people could get to work and get home, get to school and work in a more efficient way.
Bill Loveless: Buildings are a big issue too in the report, yeah – the report would have all new commercial and residential construction be net zero emissions, sometime around that same timeframe right, sometime in the 2030s.
Kathy Castor: That’s right and here’s another pathway to good paying jobs and innovation there are scientist, young people, engineers, all across America who are already – already have the solutions for us to help us use less energy and that’s the cheapest way to cut pollution, but again this is an exciting opportunity for new homes and new businesses, and then the federal government has a large role to play here as well. Think about the real estate the federal government controls, whether that’s our military installations, or of course all the federal buildings, the federal fleet, the United Postal Service, there are exciting opportunities to benchmark and build better overtime and reduce our overall carbon footprint, but you have to have a plan and you have to have direction from the top and that’s what’s been missing.
Bill Loveless: Oil and gas production would continue under this plan though limits would be placed on new drilling on federal lands, are you really comfortable with that?
Kathy Castor: Well the -- you can’t flick like switch, flip like switch and say we’re going to end fossil fuels tomorrow. I am concerned with the workers in those areas, you want to make sure that they have a pathway to the clean energy economy and the – all of these energy companies, they need to become clean energy companies and many have said that they intend to do that in the out of years, but we do propose though new oil drillings and federal waters, we do recommend no new –
Bill Loveless: I’m sorry, in federal waters you said no new drilling in federal waters?
Kathy Castor: No new federal – no new drilling in offshore waters and no new leasing, and moratorium on extraction on federal lands as well. We think that our public lands and waters can be turned into clean energy producers or at least in places where we can sequester carbon in the land. But I think overtime if we can build the clean energy economy, knowing that solar and wind are the cheapest resources already, the economics will play out that – that’s where the investments occur, especially when as we propose we shift, tax incentives going to dirty fuels, we shift them to clean energy will save that. Right now there’s not a level playing field we want to invest in what’s going to pay dividends and that’s clean energy.
Bill Loveless: You mentioned your sensitivity to the employment of many people in the oil and gas sector, that you want to make sure they’re not left out, in the process here, of adjusting the clean energy in it, and I guess that’s sort of a fine line to navigate for you because, I was reading a comment by Richard Trumka the President of the AFL-CIO, and he expressed some worry about the report, according to a story in Axios, he said quote there are concerns for our unions in these recommendations including some of the tax provisions and the time tables for emission reductions and technological mandates.
Kathy Castor: Yeah, we spend a lot of time sitting down with workers with unions, labor leaders to listen to them and generally we have consensus that the clean energy economy, provides enormous opportunities for good paying jobs with fair labor standards, those fair labor standard requirements just as environmental justice recommendations, are embedded in everything we recommend in our report. There are some industries that are going to be difficult to decarbonize and we propose big investments in research and development and I think overtime it will be the discoveries we haven’t made yet, the breakthroughs that are sitting in someone’s lab that will provide, that will help, easily concern overtime for workers.
Because we will – this is the United States of America, we went to the moon, we with the leader in the world, folks are hungry for America to resume its leadership role politically in the world and we have to bring, workers along with us, they have to have something tangible in the clean energy economy and that’s what we help to provide overtime.
Bill Loveless: Nuclear power would also continue despite some reservations among some environmental list, is nuclear power essential to meeting this net zero goal?
Kathy Castor: It is, that’s what the scientist advised as we listened across the spectrum that’s where we landed that nuclear power needs to be part of the portfolio going forward, but we have some recommendations for it, there are many nuclear power plants that are at the end of their licenses, when you’re applying for new licenses, we recommend that we do not cut any corners when it comes to safety.
If they cannot rehabilitate their plants or if their plants cannot run for decades more, then the nuclear regulatory commission needs to stand firm on that, but we do recommend that we should continue to research the next generation of advanced nuclear, the smaller generating plants, we also recommend that we need to have solutions for nuclear waste, if we’re going to continue down that road. So it’s certainly isn’t a free ride for nuclear and I think again the economics overtime are going to prove that renewable energy because it’s so much less expensive, look at the cost of the Volvo plant, in Georgia. The renewable energy I think it’s just going to outperform all others along with energy efficiency for our homes and our businesses.
Bill Loveless: The report calls for a carbon pricing system to achieve its emissions, reductions, goals, but it doesn’t specify a mechanism, and it says that congress should consider a carbon price as only one tool to compliment as sweet of policies to achieve deep pollution reductions, in short is says quote carbon pricing is not a silver bullet. What does that mean?
Kathy Castor: That’s right we recommend that we do put a price on carbon there, there are lot of polluters out there, that are simply passing along the cost of carbon pollution to Everyday Americans and I’ve seen it back home in Florida as people are paying higher insurance bills, or flood insurance bills and air conditioning and year electric bills, and that’s really, that’s not fair. So we recommend that yes, we should capture that social cost of carbon, and have the polluters pay that cost, we did not land on one form of a carbon price because the congress has some homework to do on that.
For example there are existing emission trading systems in the Northeast you have RGGI, you have California, and CABEC and other provinces in Canada have, that have developed emission trading systems, it wasn’t a – it wasn’t completely cleared as we build on those systems nationally or should we develop some other way to capture the – a price on carbon.
Bill Loveless: Yeah.
Kathy Castor: So the congress has more work to do there.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, of course you’ve been through this before back in 2009, cap and trade was passed by the House of Representatives, you will remember congress, we voted for that bill Waxman-Markey back then, but not ready to go that road, again, right.
Kathy Castor: We have a little more homework to do, and for folks who thought that our carbon tax was the _____ [00:22:29] after examining this and listening to experts, it’s not, we’ve got to have a sweet of policies in the more direct way to do it, right off the bat is to clean up our power sector, clean up our transportation sector, clean up our buildings and begin to build the natural solutions to sequestering carbon.
Bill Loveless: Right. The – you have various timelines for achieving that goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, including as I read it, the report would reduce the GNGs by at least 37% below, 2010 levels in 2030, 88% reduction, in 2050, there is that remaining 12% which is the hardest and as my colleague at the Center on Global Energy Policy Julio Friedmann would remind me, you need to pay attention to the heavy duty and off road transportation industry and agriculture, what is the report envision for -- how do you get at those toughest challenges for emissions reductions?
Kathy Castor: Boy, we’ve got to invest in our scientist and entrepreneurs and innovators to – so they can help us get there, we also envision that we need to develop some carbon renewal technologies that simply do not exist right now, because the world is not going to end at 2050, we’re going, and carbon is continuing to accumulate in the atmosphere and we believe, we’ve got to figure out, is there a way to take carbon out of the atmosphere, a lot experts and scientist said yes they think that we could develop that technology and so, we believe it’s very important to invest.
Bill Loveless: Well working forward there will be plenty of challenges and how do you get something like this going, obviously it’s not a bill that’s going to pass, there’s not going to be bills and there would be multiple bills coming out of this report. Those bills are unlikely to pass this year or if some due they’re going to stop in the House of Representatives because your body, the democrats does not control the senate. But it seems as though, what it to be successful, the report would require the election of Joe Biden as President and democratic majorities in the House and the senate, you’re on Joe Biden’s steering committee on climate change, it’s a steering committee co-chaired by a congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and former Secretary of State John Kerry. How consistent is this report with Biden’s climate plan, he’s called for net zero emissions by 2050 as well.
Kathy Castor: I think the Biden Unity Plan that will be coming out shortly, but the Vice President Biden does have a climate plan of his own, we’ll see if – how that is updated in the coming weeks, our plan is for the congress, it’s a -- an action plan for the congress, it’s a very detailed, it provides an answer to the folks, who say how are we going to get there, how are we going to do this?
Gosh, I look forward to a Biden Presidency, and a better U.S. Senate and what gives me hope there, is when you look at public opinion surveys on climate, you have majorities in both parties, no matter what you’re political persuasion is, you’ll see the future in a clean energy economy, whether it’s your motivation is you know, renewable are cheaper, that and energy efficiency can help save you money or you recognize the moral obligation, we have to our kids and future generations, whatever your motivation, I think people are going to push as to continue to make progress.
Bill Loveless: Have you had a chance to talk to Vice President Biden about this yet?
Kathy Castor: I look forward to doing that, they – the – it look like the campaign did get a copy and reviewed it and had a very positive just things to say about the plan.
Bill Loveless: Let’s look ahead to next year, see those things happen, say your party ends up controlling the White House and both chambers of congress. Even at that, is how politically viable is this plan that’s outlined here, can it track support across the political spectrum and including moderates, including members of the more of the far left side of your party.
Kathy Castor: I think it cons -- a broad based consensus has already emerged on the democratic side and what I learned during our bipartisan committee hearings over the past year is there is a common ground, there’s common ground on innovation, there is common ground on agriculture, reforestation policies, there – well there’s common ground on making our communities across country more resilient and more able to adapt to climate impacts. We’ve got to build on that, the – that’s not going to be good enough, if we want this to be durable and lasting and pass it with some bipartisan support.
Bill Loveless: Right, right, and as you know, I mean the republicans on your committee seem a little unhappy, they claim they didn’t have much of a role in this report, and have much sane, even though there may be elements of it, that they would agree with.
Kathy Castor: Well, I’m looking forward to republicans putting out their plan for solving the climate crisis, and talking with my ranking member, we agreed that, we would focus in the fall on some bipartisan recommendations to the congress.
Bill Loveless: We always and certainly in the press it seems and in another, those of us, who are in other circles discussing these issues, we come back to the Green New Deal, that seems to be a benchmark of thoughts at least for some people, in terms of what’s happening, going forward on climate change, what do you consider to be the differences between this report and the Green New Deal as outlined in the resolution that was introduced in congress previously and where do the two align?
Kathy Castor: Well, I think we align in our ambition, and our aspirations. The Green New Deal, that definitely breathe life into climate action here on Capitol Hill, the Green New Deal is a four page resolution, very aspirational, we’ve developed now a 550 plus page action plan that is particularly detailed on creating the clean energy economy and answering that question, how do we get, how do we get there, how do we get to the IPCC goal of clean energy by or net zero by 2050. So we have the road map, it’s a transformative road map, it’s a – it’s I think one area where we are right in sink is on environmental justice, we build the solutions on a foundation of environmental justice and fair labor standards for workers. So I think we’re in sink and we’re going to need all of those activist who have been urging us on to march with us all the way along to get it enacted in the law.
Bill Loveless: Right, along those lines I – what – something that caught my eye was a comment by Lauren Maunus, I hope I’m not mispronouncing her name with the Sunrise Movement, who said, of course the Sunrise is very much an advocate of the Green New Deal, she said the report has got a real sign that young people in this country are changing the politics of this country, and the establishment is scrambling to catch up, she went on to say this plan is more ambitious than anything we have seen from democratic leadership so far, but it still needs to go further, to match the full scale of the crisis, is that a fair statement?
Kathy Castor: We need to act ambitiously and where we really need the activist help is to getting the congress to start to put our recommendations down into bills. Here is some good news though, just this week, the House Democrats did pass a major transportation infrastructure package the moving forward act HR2 that takes a lot of the recommendations we’ve made, and already has passed the House of Representatives particularly, when it comes to clean energy, planning for the clean energy future, our transportation sector with clean vehicles, greater resiliency, greater standards for green building. So we’re getting there, but I – if I share, I do share the sediment that we don’t have time to waste and we better get going right away.
Bill Loveless: Is it going to be a big issue on the election this year, do you think with all that’s going on, that as climate change?
Kathy Castor: You bet it is, because if the pandemic, if COVID-19 has not shown that we’ve got to listen to scientist and public health experts I don’t know what will and the same goes for climate, folks they’re saying why – if we have these solutions and scientist supporting us in that direction, why can’t the congress and policy makers in Washington act on it. So I think they’re going to send, they’re going to send a strong message this November.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, and you’ll be what do you do from here on in now, and this report there’s so much, I’m sure well, there’s so much you need to follow up on here, what’s your game plan going forward?
Kathy Castor: We’re going to amplify a lot of the recommendations in the report, we wanted to work with our republican colleagues and hammer out as much, bipartisan legislation as we can and, I really want to take a look at, what gives us the biggest bang for the buck, it’s clearly clean energy, the clean energy standard working in the transportation sector and looking at how we can prioritize, moving all of those things right away.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, how do you feel about, are you optimistic, you’re looking forward or realistic or how do you feel going forward honestly?
Kathy Castor: I am optimistic, as soon, when we received the energy innovation modeling of the recommendations in our report, I practically did a cartwheel in my office, because we have a pathway, it may not get us all the way there, but gosh 90% that’s pretty darn goods, and trusting an American ingenuity and our global partners will be -- we can do this, it’s evident and we can do it in an equitable and inclusive way and I think that’s our calling now.
Bill Loveless: Well in many ways as we’re been discussing this is just the beginning for you and your colleagues to craft a comprehensive climate plan now comes even harder work, to make it happen, but it sounds like, you’re feeling pretty good about the way things were happening so far right now, Chair Kathy Castor, thanks again for taking the time to join us on Columbia Energy Exchange.
Kathy Castor: Thank you very much for the opportunity I hope everyone will take a look at our report at Climate Crisis, its great reading for the summer, well everyone should be staying home and staying safe anyway.
Bill Loveless: Thanks again. For more information on this Center on Global Energy Policy and Columbia Energy Exchange go to our website energypolicy.columbia.edu or find us on social media at ColumbiaUEnergy and if you have a minute, give us a rating on your favorite podcast platform, it helps us grow even more. For Columbia Energy Exchange, I’m Bill Loveless, we’ll be back again next week with another conversation.