The House passed the first major climate change bill in nearly a decade, in a symbolic gesture for Democrats eager to show they are serious about addressing global warming.
Lawmakers voted 231-190 on May 2 in favor of H.R. 9, known as the Climate Action Now Act, largely along party lines. It would force the Trump administration to remain in the international Paris agreement negotiated by 196 countries to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Three Republicans voted in favor of the bill—Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), and Vern Buchanan (Fla.)—with no Democrats opposed.
Passing the bill “is crucial to leaving behind a healthier, safer and more sustainable world for our children and grandchildren,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a tweet. “We must not ignore our duty to future generations to take swift, strong, and smart action.”
McConnell: ‘Will Go Nowhere’
But before the House even voted, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the legislation “will go nowhere” in the Republican-controlled Senate.
McConnell criticized the Paris Agreement as “the big international deal that the Obama administration cheered on” but that had “tons of red tape and real economic damage for zero measurable effect.”
The legislation would force the Trump administration to remain in the agreement by restricting all funds to withdraw from the accord.
The nonbinding international accord, agreed to in late 2015 in Paris, allowed countries to make “nationally determined contributions” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time. The Obama administration set its reduction target to be at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to remove the U.S. from the agreement, though he can’t officially do so until 2020.
Need to Pressure Other Nations Stressed
Democrats say the agreement keeps the country on a path to increase renewable energy and other low-carbon fuel sources, while putting pressure on other nations to also cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
“A vote against H.R. 9 is a vote to let China off the hook,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the lead sponsor of the bill and the chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said on the floor May 1.
Democratic leaders also hope passage of the bill can illustrate party unity on climate in the wake of splits between progressives who ardently back the ambitious Green New Deal (H.Res.109) and other lawmakers wanting to proceed more cautiously.
“You can criticize us for starting too small,” said Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) “But criticizing us for doing something that might alienate people who don’t understand what Paris does, I don’t have a lot of patience for that.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Green New Deal’s chief House sponsor, has said “there is no harm in passing” the Paris bill, but that she still backs the bolder action in her resolution.
The Green New Deal calls for meeting all U.S. demand for electricity with “clean, renewable, and zero-emission” sources. It also calls for investments to build resiliency against climate change; rebuilding infrastructure to eliminate pollution and guarantee access to clean water; and upgrading the energy and water efficiency of every building in the country and promoting distributed and “smart” power grids.
GOP Derides Process
Republican leadership derided the process by which the bill came to the floor, saying it was rushed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee and without a hearing in the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“There was no outreach to Republicans whatsoever,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. Upton voted against the bill even though he opposed Trump’s decision to leave the Paris agreement.
The GOP also said the legislation would let other countries to take less aggressive measures to address climate change while protecting their economies.
“Clearly today is more about the politics of climate change than rolling up our sleeves and getting to work,” Energy and Commerce’s ranking Republican Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) said.
But Casten, who ran a clean-energy company before being elected in 2018, said it was important for the House to get the ball rolling.
“I don’t think anybody would suggest we’ve solved the climate crisis now that we’ve got HR 9,” he said. “But by committing us to taking demonstrable action—admittedly on a voluntary basis, but Paris still says you’ve got to roll out a plan, you’ve got to say how you’re going to get there, you’ve got to direct the agencies on how to do it—we start a process that, in my own business experience, is rather addictive. Because once you commit yourself to lowering CO2, the next question is, how do we do this as affordable as possible?”
Amendments, Further Action
Despite widespread GOP disapproval of the bill, some Republican amendments were added to the bill.
Those included a measure from Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) to submit the administration’s plan to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals for notice and comment, and an amendment from Del. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-Puerto Rico) to publish a report on the positive and negative effects of the agreement on U.S. territories.
House Democrats will continue to address climate change in the face of GOP opposition, said Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.)
“We’re going to keep pushing forward an agenda that can address climate change, the impact it has, while recognizing that there has to be a process that doesn’t disrupt the economy,” said Rouda, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s environment panel. “The challenge is getting Republicans to actually speak their mind and not be afraid of what the president’s views are on this matter.”
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