House Democrats Call for ‘Negative Emissions’ in Climate Plan

House Democrats are unveiling on Tuesday a wide-ranging plan to combat climate change with a goal of effectively capturing more carbon dioxide than power plants, factories and cars emit into the atmosphere after 2050.

The so-called negative emissions proposal is part of the more than 500-page blueprint from the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis convened by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and headed by Representative Kathy Castor of Florida.

Though many of the proposals are unlikely to win favor in the Republican-controlled Senate, the document outlines the emerging debate over climate policy that will play a role in the fall elections. The plan, set to be announced by Pelosi at a Tuesday morning press conference, leaves much of the policy work to other committees.

Among the recommendations in the report is for the U.S. to cut planet-warming emissions 88% by 2050, partly by requiring utilities to generate carbon-free power. After 2050, the plan sets a goal of taking more carbon out of the atmosphere through “carbon capture” technology and other means than is being added.

“The science is unambiguous, this is our last chance,” Representative Sean Casten, an Illinois Democratic who serves on the climate panel, said in an interview. “We know it has to be done. We are living in a moment where we are seeing in real time the consequences of ignoring scientists because it was politically inconvenient.”

Representatives of the panel’s Republican members had no immediate comment on the plan.

The plan’s target for negative emissions would require a suite of technologies to capture and sequester greenhouse gases, from tree growing to systems at power plants and steel mills and the employment of nascent methods for sucking carbon dioxide from the ambient air.

Atmospheric scientists say that avoiding catastrophic climate consequences requires such negative-emission technology.

The proposal’s sweeping recommendations also include achieving 100% clean vehicles by 2035, curbing oil development on public lands and waters and an end to subsidies for fossil fuel extraction, according to a summary circulated by the committee. It would set a goal for the power sector to have net-zero emissions by 2040 in part by imposing a national standard that would require them to increasingly use carbon-free sources,

“We’ve politicized this for 30 years,” Casten said. “And now we have a road map.”

To address unique challenges of disadvantaged communities over-exposed to pollution, the document suggests a national plan for climate-related health risks and natural disasters. Hospital readiness would be enhanced, for example, with a focus on supplies and equipment that have been in short supply amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Representative Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat who serves on the climate panel, co-authored an environmental justice measure in the plan that would amend civil rights law to make it easier to challenge federal rules and decisions that result in higher levels of pollution in poor or minority neighborhoods, he said.

“It really tackles the climate crisis from every aspect from the creation of jobs, to new technologies, to what we can do now and what we need to do between now and 2050,” McEachin said. “In this point in time coming out of Covid-19 when we need to rebuild our economy, this gives us an unusual opportunity to really tackle the climate crisis and build our economy in a green fashion.”

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