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House Democrats unveil climate plan calling for emissions cuts and New Deal-style jobs program

The select committee forming recommendations is led by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, speaks to the crowd at a voter rally in 2016 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, speaks to the crowd at a voter rally in 2016 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. [ LEIVA, ANDRES | Times (2016) ]
Published Jun. 30, 2020|Updated Jun. 30, 2020

The United States should cut carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050, reform its flood mapping program and restart the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps to prepare for climate change, a group of congressional Democrats wrote in a broad report released Tuesday.

The document was drafted by majority members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, chaired by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, of Tampa, which was formed last year and has heard testimony from researchers, local officials and young activists including Sweden’s Greta Thunberg.

“While local communities and states and businesses take climate action, what’s been missing is the federal government,” Castor said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. The Times reviewed a four-page summary of the report before its release.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi restarted the committee after Republicans disbanded a similar group upon winning a majority of the chamber in 2010. She introduced the 538-page report Tuesday morning on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, saying climate change is “threatening public health, jobs and the economy, national security and values.” Pelosi said climate policy will “be a fight as long as it needs to be.”

The administration of President Donald Trump has overseen rollbacks of environmental regulations and the withdrawal of America from the international Paris Agreement on climate change. Castor said she expects the Republican minority in the committee to release its own report, and by the fall they could work toward bipartisan recommendations.

A land use lawyer who worked for the agency that oversaw growth management in Florida, Castor said she thinks Congress can find unity on climate change now more than a decade ago.

“It’s really important to people’s pocketbooks,” she told the Times. “In Florida, they know they’re paying more for their property insurance, their flood insurance.”

Related: Florida has thousands more properties with high flood risk than FEMA says, according to new study

She recalled last summer visiting farmers, which she described as a “pretty conservative group,” and listening to stories about crops or livestock harmed by spikes in temperature and changes to the weather.

The Democrats underpin their report with pitches on the economy, including the chance for new jobs in renewable energy. Castor said she particularly hopes to expand solar production in Florida. House Democrats advocate for America selling only zero-emission cars by 2035 and doubling public transit funding.

The re-established Civilian Conservation Corps would recall a program in the 1930s and 40s that paid workers to contribute to projects like building dams and planting trees.

“People are going to be looking for those good-paying jobs as we come out of the COVID-induced economic troubles,” Castor said, referencing the pandemic.

The Democrats want to secure protection of more land and water, including reclaiming and restoring areas mined for coal. The report endorses a ban on new offshore oil drilling, important in Florida, where leaders oppose moving rigs into the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

In response to the report, an official from the American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and natural gas interests, said Congress should recognize “the critical role of the ... industry in reducing emissions and powering the nation’s economic recovery.” Frank Macchiarola, the group’s senior vice president for policy, economics and regulatory affairs, said in the statement that companies seek “bipartisan policy solutions to reduce the risks of climate change that do not force a false choice between protecting the environment and growing the U.S. economy.”

Touching sea-level rise, another key issue for Florida, the action plan highlights tougher codes for infrastructure and making flood insurance less costly for low-income families. The lawmakers say federal flood maps should include projections of future conditions.

Environmental justice, Castor said, is supposed to be a thread through the recommendations, a reference to how poor and minority communities have historically been most harmed by pollution and overlooked in adaptation plans. The Democrats suggest stricter enforcement of environmental laws and more spending in underserved places.

Rep. Donald McEachin, of Virginia, referenced people who confront arsenic-laced sludge from coal ash ponds around Richmond in his home state. “We’ve ignored the devastating effects on their health and their well being,” he said Tuesday.

The division over climate policy in Congress extends beyond the aisle. It is a key fight between members of Castor’s own party. A wave of young, progressive Democrats has called for a “Green New Deal,” and one of the architects of that push, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was not included on the special House committee.

The priorities outlined by the members hew closely to bullet points from a roughly 10,000 word write-up about climate found on the website of Democratic presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden. Castor is among the lawmakers on a campaign task force looking for unity on climate change, along with Ocasio-Cortez and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Times political editor Steve Contorno contributed to this report.


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