(Bloomberg) -- House Democrats unveiled a target to stave off climate change Tuesday, one that is a far cry from the controversial Green New Deal being championed by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives.
Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced they would pursue legislation this year that calls for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a less ambitious but politically, and technologically, achievable alternative to Ocasio-Cortez’s sweeping Green New Deal that called for hitting that target by 2030.
“We just think that target is more realistic,” said Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the committee.
“If we don’t go down to net-zero carbon pollution by then we have a catastrophic situation,” Pallone said, citing scientific reports on the issue by the United Nations and others.
The announcement comes as some Democrats worry the Green New Deal could cost them at the polls. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has thrown cold water on that plan, which drew Republican derision for its jobs guarantee and other elements.
“Mainstream Democrats are determined to make climate change a centrist -- not a far left -- policy as an electoral issue,” said Paul Bledsoe, who advised President Bill Clinton on climate issues and now works as an adviser with the Progressive Policy Institute. “I think they are concerned that Ocasio-Cortez and others could actually alienate swing voters rather than attract them with aggressive rhetoric.”
Pallone said there would be a series of hearings and meetings with stakeholders with the aim of creating legislation by the end of the year. The first hearing, on ways to decarbonize the economy, is scheduled for Wednesday. “We’re going to start a process,” Pallone said.
Pallone said the committee would try to incorporate parts of the Green New Deal into their plan.
The Sunrise Movement, the progressive advocacy group that helped pioneer the Green New Deal, criticized Pallone’s announcement, arguing that Democratic leaders were “misrepresenting the science.”“To set a low goal that is misaligned with what science demands out of the gate is irresponsible, and bargaining against our future,” co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement.
A spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is no small task, and may reflect the way the Green New Deal has shifted the political conversation around climate change -- as well the goal posts.
“The majority of the Democratic caucus is behind aggressive but not socialist climate policies,” Bledsoe said. “They worry the Green New Deal rhetoric could alienate rather than attract swing voters needed in 2020.”
Democratic presidential candidates, including front-runner Joe Biden, have outlined plans to reach decarbonization targets by mid-century as well.
But nobody thinks it will be easy. Analysts say achieving such a goal will require massive shifts such as an end to vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, most electricity produced by coal, and the use of natural gas in buildings for heat and cooking. New bio-based fuels for aviation and carbon capture technology for cement factories and chemical refineries will be required. And a shift away from the consumption of meat could be required.
“We are looking for any and all ideas,” said New York Representative Paul Tonko, the head of the Environment and Climate Change subcommittee.
The Green New Deal’s manifesto, in the form of a non-binding resolution offered in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, calls for a “10-year national mobilization” to shift the nation to 100% “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” -- a high bar, given that fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas and coal) accounted for 80% of U.S. energy consumption in 2018.
In addition to Tonko, Pallone was flanked by Bobby Rush of Illinois, the head of the Energy subcommittee, and other committee cardinals. Ocasio-Cortez and other Green New Deal architects didn’t attend the press conference.
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s John Bowman applauded the initiative.
“Reaching 100% clean energy and zero net carbon pollution by 2050 must be the guidepost for every energy, environmental, and economic policy decision we make over the next 30 years,” Bowman, the organization’s managing director for government affairs, said in a statement.
(Updates with Pallone comments starting in third paragraph, Sunrise Movement in ninth.)
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