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After Green New Deal Vote, South Florida Lawmakers Work On Other Climate Plans

Environmental activists occupy the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi this past December. They plan more sit-ins to push for support of a sweeping resolution to address climate change.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Green New Deal is the most talked-about federal legislation to tackle climate change and sea level rise at the moment.

But its goals of reducing fossil fuel use and creating cleaner energy and jobs is still more an aspiration than an action plan. And in the meantime, South Florida lawmakers in Washington say they’re working on other solutions.

Among bills currently being proposed are those to create a fee on carbon, put more money for clean energy research in federal spending bills and emphasize climate change as an issue in 2020 elections.

“We’re going to press for urgent action – we just don’t have time to wait,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, who was chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to run a special committee working on climate issues.

The Green New Deal, introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a national plan to sharply reduce the use of fossil fuels, support research and use of cleaner energy sources and provide jobs and training in the energy industry. Supporters say it’s the best way to stem increasing global temperatures – and the rising sea levels already being felt in South Florida.

But last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave Democrats a taste of the obstacles they face in trying to pass it. On March 26, McConnell and his Republican colleagues held a procedural vote on a resolution supporting the creation of a Green New Deal, ultimately smacking it down 57-0. Most Democrats voted ‘present’ in protest of McConnell’s choice to vote on the resolution before holding a committee hearing.

The vote was purely symbolic; the Green New Deal was never about to become law. The resolution was a statement of priorities; Congress would still have to write another bill to make the Green New Deal happen. At the moment it’s more an outline of ambitious goals than a plan to hit those targets.

Climate activists disagree about whether the Green New Deal is the most effective approach – and say all the attention on the plan makes it harder for other ideas to break through. Meanwhile, Republicans are gleeful the Green New Deal could turn off moderate voters in next year’s elections and have called the proposal a socialist takeover of the energy industry.

Environmentalist Greg Hamra, group leader for Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Miami chapter, considers the Green New Deal a destination without a roadmap. But he says it’s a feat of outreach and communication.

“Clearly, it has put the climate issue on the front burner,” he said. “The number of people who have rallied behind this is truly amazing. It really is.”

Hamra favors a bill introduced in Congress by U.S. Representative Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Broward. Deutch’s bill would add an increasing carbon fee to products, services and some imports – to include the cost of pollution on a price tag. For instance, a TV would cost .2 percent more each year.

The revenue would then be given back to taxpayers as a way to offset higher prices. Supporters estimate the bill would raise the price of gas by 11 cents a gallon a year.

Hamra says a carbon fee is the best way to encourage research and cleaner technology – by making fossil fuels more expensive.

Deutch says House Democrats are just starting work on climate legislation. He and his colleagues in Washington say they know there’s no one bill that will fix the rising temperatures and seas already impacting South Florida.

In the end, the Green New Deal may be the only climate bill to get a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate this session. 

Any proposal that does make it out of Congress would still have to win over President Donald Trump.

“There’s going to be a lot of action here and we’re only a few months into this new Congress,” Deutch said, “and there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the Senate to actually recognize the crisis we face and actually do something about it.”

Notable climate bills in the 116th Congress:

H.R. 9 -- This is the House bill that asks the president to come up with a plan for the U.S. to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement. Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2017. Critics of the Paris deal say there’s no way to enforce the goal of mitigating rising global temperatures if countries don’t meet their targets. Supporters say its the best plan to spur international cooperation to address climate change.

Senate Joint Resolution 8 -- This is the version of the Green New Deal that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced for a vote. It copies the language of the original resolution introduced by Democratic supporters in the House. Senators killed it on a 57-0 vote, with most Democrats voting ‘present’ to protest McConnell’s choice to vote on the bill before holding a committee hearing.

H.R. 763 -- Rep. Ted Deutch’s bill creating a carbon fee and rebate for taxpayers. The bill would add a fee that increases each year to products, services and some imports to account for the cost of pollution. Supporters say new technologies, such as carbon capture, are only viable if fossil fuels are more expensive. Deutch’s proposal is one of several carbon fee being considered by Congress, with varying costs and scope.

H.R. 658 -- Infrastructure is an emerging political front for climate change. This bill would create a national infrastructure bank to help fund projects across the country. President Trump has said he wants a bill to address roads, bridges and other public facilities. Democrats do too. But, Democrats are likely to demand that any infrastructure package also deals with climate change or helps communities dealing with its effects.

House Resolution 288 -- This is the “Green Real Deal” from Florida Republican Matt Gaetz. The resolution acknowledges that climate change is a serious issue and outlines ways the U.S. should further reduce greenhouse gasses. For Republicans concerned about climate change, the resolution is a statement of principles and a starting point to find some compromise with Democrats.

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John O’Connor is a reporter for StateImpact Florida, a project of WUSF, WLRN and NPR covering education. John writes for the StateImpact Florida blog and produces stories for air on Florida public radio stations.