5 Action Steps for the Department of Commerce to Lead a National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

Originally published January 7, 2021

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America can’t fight the 21st century’s greatest threat, climate change, with 20th century economic policies. The Department of Commerce will be critical for making the U.S. a leader in the global clean energy economy with millions of good-paying union jobs.

Gina Raimondo has the opportunity to lead the U.S. Department of Commerce to drive major investment in clean energy manufacturing training and jobs across America. The Department of Commerce should work to incentivize clean energy at home and around the world, including joining the U.S. Trade Representative in designing a Climate Duty to be assessed on climate pollution of imports from countries not committed to bold climate action.

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The Department of Commerce also has a key role to play in restoring science through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, his own scientists’ climate research, now Gina Raimondo can use NOAA’s scientific resources to protect coastal communities and livelihoods. NOAA’s work must be expanded to help restore ecosystems, prepare maritime industries for climate change, and strengthen coastal resiliency. NOAA can also help further support carbon sequestration in federal water to boost negative emissions. Governor Raimondo should also revamp the National Institute of Standards and Technology to strengthen the whole government’s measurements for clean energy standards, greenhouse gas emissions, and overall climate research.

In order to realize Biden’s climate mandate, every federal agency must become a climate agency. The Department of Commerce will be critical in this effort. Today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions that the next Department of Commerce must deliver in the all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis:

1. Drive American Manufacturing and Industrial Policy for a Clean Energy Economy

The next Commerce Secretary has a crucial role to play in asserting a more intentional national policy to build domestic clean energy and advanced manufacturing industries for the 21st century. The Department of Commerce should partner with the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Defense (DOD) to initiate a Quadrennial Industrial Review (QIR) to plot sound sound industrial strategies for 21st century growth, including for critical materials and rare-earth elements, global demands, and domestic manufacturing capacity and supply chain management. The Secretary of Commerce should work closely with the White House Climate Office and DOE to drive policy and investment to support clean and competitive domestic manufacturing industries, and to re-establish American leadership manufacturing key clean energy technologies. As part of these efforts, the Department of Commerce should expand federal support for clean energy-focused technical assistance and skills-training programs for businesses, states, and local governments through the Manufacturing Extension Service and Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, as well as the Economic Development Administration, Minority Business Development Agency, and the International Trade Administration. Commerce should also direct its Census Bureau to contribute to a new national initiative to identify differences in environmental justice and to focus federal investment and policy especially to support disadvantaged communities.

2. Deploy NOAA Assets to Protect Coastal Communities and Livelihoods

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), nested under the Department of Commerce, must better prepare America’s maritime industries and coastal communities for the impacts of climate change. NOAA must also prioritize its coastal restoration and salmon recovery programs to improve the health of marine and freshwater ecosystems, and restore wetlands and coastal habitats. Given the ocean’s role as a planetary carbon sink, NOAA should also establish a domestic Blue Carbon Program to support ocean-based sequestration projects and blue carbon zones in federal waters. Drawing on its scientific expertise, NOAA should work alongside NASA, USDA, FEMA, NGA, and subnational experts to better understand the regional and localized impacts of a changing climate, and develop strategic planning solutions to minimize the impact of environmental, economic, and climate disruption on citizens, communities, and the U.S. economy.

3. Ensure that U.S. Trade Policy Accelerates, Not Undermines, the Transition to an Inclusive Clean Energy Economy

The next Commerce Secretary and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) will inherit from the Trump Administration a tangled web of international trade disputes that have had adverse impacts on American workers, businesses and communities — including those in clean energy and agricultural industries. Commerce will play an important role in facilitating resolutions, and asserting further accountability, where appropriate, to support fair trade policies for American workers and industries. At the same time, the next Commerce Secretary and USTR must work to design and institute a Climate Duty to be assessed upon the embodied climate pollution of imports from nations not committed to bold climate action, once the U.S. undertakes an ambitious agenda for greenhouse gas pollution reductions at home. This climate duty will be critical for incentivizing low-carbon supply chains, supporting domestic industries, and providing a supplemental enforcement provision for fulfilling commitments made in the Paris Climate Agreement. It should be developed by working with key industries, workers, and both domestic and international stakeholders across trade-exposed industries. As part of this climate-focused international commerce agenda, the Department of Commerce’s Foreign Commercial Service should also bolster its climate acumen to ensure that America’s international exports and trade policies are similarly aligned with a climate-safe future.

4. Expand Rural Broadband Connectivity and Achieve Universal Broadband Coverage to Catalyze Grid Resilience and Economic Development

The Department of Commerce should work through its Economic Development Administration, with the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (USDA-RUS) and Department of Interior, to expand broadband connectivity across the country, with particular focus on rural and tribal regions. Universal broadband access creates a more resilient grid that can respond to smart grid modernization technologies, improve the ability to integrate climate-friendly agricultural and forestry practices through better data, and maximize energy efficiency potential. The Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency should expand financial resources for broadband access through its grant program, as well.

5. Revive and Boost the Climate Change Practice under the National Institute of Standards and Technology

The Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) must reinvigorate its work with other federal agencies to develop internationally acceptable standards, methodologies, and technologies to develop robust greenhouse gas emission inventories and measurements. NIST should also update and provide measurements and standards that support the best available science for reliable climate observations and calibrations to improve the accuracy of a wide range of instruments and techniques used in climate research and monitoring. NIST should also increasingly focus on deployment challenges, including partnering with other federal agencies, like the Department of Energy (DOE) in setting new standards for zero-emission building design, to drive economic transformations to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible.

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