In the News

Moderate congressional Democrats worried about the infeasibility of passing the kind of sweeping climate legislation their progressive counterparts are proposing, such as the Green New Deal, are laying out their own policies.

The New Democrat Coalition released an 11-page outline of principles on Wednesday, along with a list of bills to back them up, advocating for incremental and “pro-market” steps to cut pollution.

Their pitch comes as the Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg visits Capitol Hill to tell US lawmakers they just aren’t trying hard enough, and young people inspire global climate strikes this Friday ahead of the UN climate change summit next week.

“Congress has been working for years on powerful, proven policy solutions,” they say. “Our challenge is to build on those efforts and push past entrenched partisan fights to secure durable climate legislation that ensures we lead the global transition in combatting climate change.”

The New Democrats want to set a clean energy standard, encourage nuclear power and clean up methane leaks from oil and gas companies. They say they want to get carbon pollution to net-zero by 2050, calling the climate problem “unquestionably urgent”.

Progressives, by comparison, have penned the Green New Deal, a blueprint for rapidly cutting heat-trapping pollution while fighting societal inequity. But the document, sponsored by the presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is not legislation and does not spell out specific policy changes.

The difference in the proposals highlights a rift between Democrats that is also on display with the 2020 presidential candidates.

More centrist politicians worry about playing into Republican messaging that climate-focused Democrats want to ban cheeseburgers and end air travel. And they say lawmakers should focus on what is politically achievable. Progressives say the climate crisis requires radical change.

Where Sanders has called for spending $16.3tn on climate goals and for going to war with fossil fuel companies, former vice-president Joe Biden would commit $1.7tn and has struggled to commit to phasing out the US natural gas that is contributing to heating the planet.

Congressman Scott Peters, vice-chair of the New Democrats, maintained that his group’s proposals aren’t inconsistent with a Green New Deal and said some might be able to gain necessary support from conservatives.

Peters said “rather than arguing about a political tool like the Green New Deal”, Democrats should be making plans.

Peters acknowledged his group has more to do, noting that their package of legislation doesn’t include a plan to tax carbon pollution.

But he said “this is what you need to do to start a path to net-zero by mid-century”. That’s the goal the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has laid out for keeping temperatures from rising unacceptably higher.

“We really don’t have time to waste,” he said.