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Congress Seeks a Clean Energy Economy While Recovering from Coronavirus Pandemic

September 17, 2020 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — Congress discussed proposals Wednesday to switch the United States to 100% clean energy as Western governors confronting out-of-control wildfires demand action on global warming.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is trying to figure out a way to recover jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic by switching them to environmentally friendly markets.

However, the long list of options that includes solar, wind, nuclear, electric vehicles and energy efficient buildings left no clear path forward. 

“I don’t think anybody believes that the transition to a 100% clean economy will be easy,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., chairman of the subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.

Republicans and Democrats largely agreed they will eliminate carbon emissions and reach their energy efficiency goals only after the business community can see a profit from it.

“Putting Americans back to work should be a top priority,” Tonko said.

Rep. Scott H. Peters, D-Calif., whose state is suffering the worst of the wildfires, added that federal investment could only bring part of the energy efficiency needed to reduce climate change.

“We have to incentivize the private sector or it won’t work,” Peters said.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography is estimating damages from wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington state will reach over $20 billion this year, hitting a new record for fire devastation. More than 30 people have been killed and hundreds of homes destroyed.

Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, advocated for better forest management to reduce the dry wood and shrubbery that acts as a fuel for wildfires.

“In Oregon, more than 40,000 people have been displaced,” Walden said.

Devashree Saha, a senior associate at the Washington, D.C.-based World Resources Institute, told lawmakers the U.S. economic downturn this year caused by pandemic and natural disasters creates a unique opportunity.

Public investment into low-emission infrastructure could revamp the economy and the climate, she said.

“More importantly, it will not come at the expense of U.S. economic growth or a healthy job market,” Saha said. “In fact, designed properly it will present both near-term and long-term economic benefits and opportunities.”

The U.S. government has few better alternatives, she said.

“On the other hand, delaying action on climate will further expose the United States to costly damage from climate impacts, air pollution and other public health crises,” Saha said.

A government report cited during the congressional hearing predicted a 10% decline in U.S. gross domestic product by the end of the 21st century unless climate policies are improved.

Under the Paris Agreement, participating countries agreed to follow policies that would keep global temperatures under the 1.5-degrees Celsius pre-industrial levels.

“U.S. emissions will have to decrease more than twice as fast from 2018 to 2030 as they did during 2005 to 2018” to reach the Paris Agreement goal, Saha said.

Michelle Michot Foss, a Rice University energy studies professor, suggested the United States might need to seek independence from foreign suppliers of key minerals to become more environmentally friendly.

Most lithium used in rechargeable batteries in electric vehicles in the United States is imported, she said.

“Nearly 80% of this capacity resides in China,” she said in her testimony.

She added, “Geopolitical security risk and uncertainty are prevalent across supply chains, including international sourcing and trade.”

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