New Democratic Senate Majority Has Responsibility to Deliver On Biden’s Climate Mandate

© 2016 Senate Democrats/Flickr cc by 2.0

With the swearing-in of Senators Alex Padilla, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff, Senator Chuck Schumer becomes majority leader for the first time, and for the first time in a decade, Democrats have a governing majority in the House and the Senate. This time, they’ll enter the House, the Senate, and the Presidency broadly unified around Joe Biden’s sweeping climate agenda. Biden ran on the boldest climate plan of any presidential nominee in history, and won a decisive victory. Democrats now have a mandate to deliver on Biden’s plan for robust clean energy standards, transformative investments, and environmental justice.

Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in Congress have a responsibility to deliver on President Biden’s climate agenda. They must act with urgency to launch the clean energy economic recovery Americans deserve as an immediate legislative priority.

Leader Schumer must not let Senate dysfunction or outdated rules keep him from delivering on long overdue climate action.

President Biden’s clean energy recovery plan hinged on three critical components:

  • A 100% clean electricity sector by 2035 (Standards)
  • $2 trillion in investments over four years (Investment)
  • 40% of federal green investments targeted to disadvantaged communities (Justice)

This bold climate agenda not only won Biden the White House, it helped deliver a Democratic Senate majority. Jon Ossoff campaigned on a sweeping infrastructure plan encompassing clean power and energy efficiency, while Reverend Raphael Warnock closed Election Day on a message of environmental justice.

This memo summarizes the legislation Congressional Democrats can and must pass to advance the Biden administration’s ambitious Build Back Better agenda for climate action and a clean energy economic recovery. This report draws directly on the Biden team’s climate, clean energy and environmental justice plans to deliver insight into the window of opportunity for climate action now that Democrats have a trifecta.

I. Standards

Preventing the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, and seizing the full opportunity of a robust and sustained clean energy economic recovery, will require establishing ambitious sector-specific standards to cut carbon pollution on clearly defined timelines. With ambitious congressional action, the United States can be a global leader in setting and achieving those targets.

Some notable first steps should include:

  • 100% clean electricity by 2035, advanced through a federal Clean Electricity Standard and with commensurate investments in clean power generation and transmission infrastructure.
  • Rigorous new fuel economy and tailpipe pollution standards, through executive action, aimed at ensuring rapid transition to 100% zero-emission new light- and medium-duty vehicles, followed closely by all new heavy-duty vehicles. And accompanying congressional investments in clean car manufacturing, deployment, and charging infrastructure.
  • A Zero-Emission Building Standard requiring 100% zero-carbon new commercial buildings across the United States by 2030, including stronger federal incentives for states and municipalities to adopt more ambitious building codes.

II. Investments

A true clean energy recovery will require robust public and private investments to build 21st-century green infrastructure, support state and local climate leadership, and spur the creation of millions of living-wage, union jobs across the country to build the clean, fair economy that science and justice demand. President Biden has already pledged to put $2 trillion toward jumpstarting a clean economy.

Congress must follow through in realizing that Build Back Better plan, investing in key initiatives including:

  • Clean energy, transmission and smart grid modernization to help achieve 100% clean electricity and expand next-generation electrification to rural communities, boosted by more robust and accessible tax incentives, investments and low-cost public financing.
  • Upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherizing 2 million homes over the next four years, creating 1 million jobs while ensuring energy security for low-income households.
  • Twenty-first century transportation infrastructure with robust public transit networks, smarter environmental protections on transit development projects, and 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations nationwide.
  • Industrial innovation incentives for private investment and growth in domestic manufacturing capacity for clean energy industries.
  • Buy Clean programs directing federal procurement dollars toward low-carbon materials, cutting supply chain emissions and supporting burgeoning climate-smart industries.
  • Climate-smart agricultural innovations, supported through the Commodity Credit Corporation, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and other federal funding streams.
  • Clean energy research and development at the Department of Energy, creating cutting-edge technologies to drive down renewable power costs and hasten the clean economy transition.
  • Climate-resilient infrastructure in vulnerable communities, built out through investments in culverts, dams, levees, seawalls and locks, as well as green infrastructure such as mangroves, wetlands and barrier islands.

III. Justice

Ensuring justice and equity is a clear priority for any climate action plan. All standards and investments must be rolled out with the intention of securing justice for vulnerable and historically underserved communities. President Biden made detailed commitments to justice-oriented climate action.

Congress can take several concrete steps following President-elect Biden’s leadership to pursue climate justice:

  • Targeting support to underserved populations by directing 40% of all climate investments communities that have historically borne the brunt of systemic racism, economic disenfranchisement, and environmental injustice.
  • Identifying the most vulnerable communities by enacting a new national equity map based on the cumulative impacts of public health disparities, pollution, and economic inequality. And subjecting federal agency actions and investments to an Equity Screen based on the results of said map.
  • Ensuring a just transition for former fossil fuel workers and communities by securing coal miners’ benefits and making an unprecedented investment in coal and power plant communities.
  • Providing clean and safe drinking water to all Americans by addressing the enormous backlog of water infrastructure projects in the US, and also in restoring wetland ecosystem services.
  • Limiting dangerous pollution by strengthening chemical safety laws and increasing investments in pollution cleanup and environmental remediation.
  • Restoring workers’ rights to form unions, collectively bargain, earn a living wage, work in a safe environment, and otherwise advocate for their own wellbeing, through passage of the PRO Act and other legislation.