Five Takeaways From the House Select Committee’s Climate Crisis Action Plan
We have a decade to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Now is the time for strong leadership and urgent action to get to a pollution-free, 100% clean energy future. But instead of listening to experts and the people across this country demanding solutions, the Trump administration continues to put the fossil fuel industry first. In the absence of leadership from the executive branch, Congress is stepping up to chart a path to bold and equitable climate solutions.
In 2019, the House of Representatives established a select committee to make climate policy recommendations to Congress that “achieve substantial and permanent reductions in pollution and other activities that contribute to the climate crisis.” Chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis includes experts in climate change, clean energy, and environmental justice. To inform the plan, the committee undertook a thorough and inclusive process of learning from community leaders, environmental justice advocates, and policy experts. It also sought input from the public to inform their recommendations.
The committee delivered its final report to Congress on June 30, titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America.” This comprehensive report includes many policies that Earthjustice and our partners have championed and fought for. It will serve as a roadmap for policymakers to tackle the climate crisis in a way that advances justice and equity, benefits workers and the economy, and protects public health.
Here are some of the key solutions highlighted in the report and how we can get there, from five Earthjustice experts.
1. Building a just and equitable clean energy future
Jill Tauber, Vice President of Litigation for Climate & Energy
Scientists tell us that solving the climate crisis means transforming our economy and getting to a pollution-free, 100% clean energy economy no later than 2050. The committee’s Climate Crisis Action Plan lays out a roadmap to get us there. It proposes a suite of policies to advance clean energy, including enacting strong clean energy standards, investing in clean technologies, and building a more sustainable and resilient energy grid.
Most importantly, the Action Plan recognizes that climate solutions that do not center equity and justice are not actually solutions. Across the country, communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal and Indigenous communities are disproportionately harmed by deadly pollution. They are also on the frontlines of climate change, and at risk of being left behind in a clean energy transition.
With environmental justice and equity at the core of its policy recommendations, the Action Plan charts a course for a just, pollution-free future for all. That means reducing toxic industrial pollution in the most impacted communities, in addition to cutting carbon pollution. It also calls for expanding access to clean energy, and more fully consulting these communities in decision-making.
The Action Plan reflects input from the environmental justice and environmental organizations that created the Equitable & Just National Climate Platform, which outlines a bold national policy agenda that advances economic, racial, climate, and environmental justice for all. By continuing to engage impacted communities and environmental justice leaders, Congress can build on the Action Plan to address the climate crisis and systemic injustice.
2. Prioritizing people’s health over polluter profits
Raul Garcia, Legislative Director, Healthy Communities
Climate impacts have dire consequences for human health, especially for communities of color, low-income communities, and Indigenous communities who bear the compounded and cumulative health impacts from decades of pollution and centuries of abuse. Higher temperatures worsen air quality in urban areas, extreme heat threatens farmworkers, and dangerously polluted water poses even greater threat during more frequent and stronger storms.
The Action Plan decisively recognizes that solving the climate crisis requires us to address the unrelenting attacks that corporate polluters unleash on our communities’ health. It calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to address the cumulative impacts that communities face from industrial and infrastructure development, on top of existing health, social and economic vulnerabilities.
It also calls for stronger enforcement of our bedrock environmental laws in the most impacted communities, at a time when the Trump administration is suspending enforcement under the cover of COVID-19. It proposes further investments to reduce pollution from industrial facilities and clean up contaminated sites, especially in communities most harmed by pollution. And it directs Congress and federal agencies to consult communities on policies that would impact their health and livelihoods.
Most importantly, this plan demonstrates that communities are fighting back, speaking up, and being heard. We look forward to advocating alongside them to enact the committee’s recommendations and ensure that climate solutions improve people’s health in the communities that currently experience the greatest health harms.
3. Protecting lands, waters, and wildlife
Addie Haughey, Legislative Director, Lands, Wildlife, Oceans
From extreme weather to ocean acidification, the climate crisis is already threatening ecosystems and biodiversity across the globe. But natural systems can also be a critical part of the solution. By adopting natural climate solutions we can do more than just sequester carbon — we can address the compounding environmental, economic, and societal crises that threaten our communities and nature. The Action Plan would root this critical work in environmental justice, and it calls for meaningful public engagement and consultation — specifically, through reversing harmful changes to and strengthening implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Meaningful climate action also cannot succeed without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, which this plan calls for. The plan also supports meeting all obligations to consult with tribes, and the use of Indigenous traditional knowledge as a critical tool for addressing the climate crisis and restoring nature.
The Action Plan calls for protecting 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030, which would be a huge step towards the scope and scale of protections needed in the face of climate change. For example, we can protect carbon-rich, biodiverse old growth forests like the Tongass National Forest in Alaska by limiting road building and adding climate change to the U.S. Forest Service’s multi-use management mission, and redirect resources towards forest restoration actions that bolster the climate and wildlife. For the ocean, achieving the goals of 30×30 would create new marine protected areas while protecting and restoring coastal blue carbon ecosystems. The Plan also ensures that offshore renewable energy development supports healthy ocean ecosystems, and tackles growing threats to ocean ecosystems like acidification, harmful algal blooms, and the impacts of climate change on fisheries.
The Action Plan addresses the biodiversity crisis head-on by advancing smarter climate planning for endangered species, creating a National Landscape Conservation Strategy, and investing in wildlife corridors for connectivity. Critically for this goal, the Plan reverses harmful regulatory changes to the Endangered Species Act.
Many of these natural solutions also represent major investments in job-creating restoration activities that would multiply benefits, including the creation of a Civilian Conservation Corps and a program to restore abandoned mine lands. At a moment of economic crisis, these investments are invaluable for communities on the frontlines of climate change.
4. Tackling pollution from transportation, buildings, and industry
Solving the climate crisis means tackling the dual threat of harmful air and climate pollution from every source. Earthjustice launched its Right to Zero campaign to transform our combustion-based economy towards a zero-emissions system — not just for the energy sector, but also for our transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors. The Action Plan takes a comprehensive approach that is critical to achieving the zero-emissions future at the core of our Right to Zero campaign.
Transportation is now the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., and a major source of air pollution in communities. The Action Plan includes significant policies to advance clean solutions like electric vehicles, public transit, walking, and bike infrastructure. The report also recognizes we must advance zero-emissions beyond just passenger vehicles, and it includes policies for electrifying a wide range of vehicles from trucks to buses to ferries. We are also pleased to see a bold proposal to advance 100% zero-emissions vehicles in the world’s largest civilian fleet: the trucks that move mail for the United States Postal Service.
Residential and commercial buildings account for 40% of U.S. energy use. The Action Plan includes significant proposals for cleaning up our buildings by focusing on building electrification, which has the dual benefit of reducing climate pollution and improving air quality inside homes and apartments.
Finally, the Action Plan lays out a strategy to make the U.S. a global leader in tackling one of the hardest sectors to clean up: the industrial sector. It calls for substantial investments to boost innovation and transform industry and manufacturing to reduce pollution.
5. Turning agriculture into a climate solution
There is no industry that stands to suffer more from the climate crisis than agriculture. Climate disruptions to agriculture are already severe and threaten farmers’ livelihoods and our food security. At the same time, agriculture contributes to warming the planet – about 10% of U.S. GHG emissions. The full food system is responsible for about 30%. Fortunately, there are many “climate stewardship” agricultural practices that can both make farms and ranches more resilient to climate change and reduce their contribution to it. The Action Plan rightly sees a big opportunity in significantly accelerating adoption of these practices.
Unfortunately, for decades federal farm policy has not encouraged, and in many ways has impeded, employment of climate-friendly practices such as multi-year crop rotations, cover crops, improved fertilizer and manure management, rotational grazing, and agroforestry. The Action Plan seeks to change that.
These practices, while already well-proven, have received little research funding to date; the Action Plan thus wisely urges formally authorizing the Climate Hubs and regional agroforestry centers and greater funding for research directed specifically at climate resilient and mitigating practices. Moreover, despite their benefits and profitability, these practices are still not widely used and transitioning can be complicated and costly. The Action Plan correctly urges more federal investment in outreach and transition assistance and ensuring that the existing crop insurance and conservation programs are implemented to maximize the climate benefit.
With leadership, commitment, and open minds, U.S. agriculture can see widespread and rapid adoption of climate stewardship practices, on-farm renewable energy and energy efficiency, and changes throughout the food system. It can become part of the climate change solution. Now is the time to act on these recommendations, such as by enacting all or parts of the Agriculture Resilience Act and directing the USDA to prioritize climate change in all its programs.
Earthjustice will keep advocating alongside our environmental justice partners and climate leaders on Capitol Hill to advance these solutions and secure a just climate future.