The Democratic Party has released its first major bill (pdf) with the goal of achieving a “100 percent clean energy economy by 2050,” calling for a radical transition from traditional sources of energy to renewables such as wind and solar power.
Referred to as the “100 Percent Clean Economy Act of 2019” or the “100 x 50 Act,” the bill focuses on “net-zero climate pollution across the United States’ economy. This means replacing carbon-polluting energy with wind, solar, and other clean sources of energy across all sectors of our economy—from transportation to manufacturing to electricity—and making no more climate pollution than we remove from the atmosphere.”
According to the proposed bill, immediate action could be carried out through existing authorities.
“The discussion draft directs federal agencies to use existing authorities to cut carbon pollution and achieve the national long-term goal while remaining technology-neutral. Agency actions can include regulations, incentives, research and development, steps to reduce their own emissions, and any other action appropriate to achieve the national goal.”
The bill would also require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate plans and monitor progress.
The 100 x 50 plan serves as an alternative to the more ambitious Green New Deal sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which proposed net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
The 100 Percent Clean Economy Act echoes the plan formulated by former Democratic Party presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, who formulated a plan to spend $5 trillion over the next decade to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. O’Rourke’s plan came in for stinging criticism from Ocasio-Cortez, who said it was not ambitious enough. The development of the 100 x 50 plan highlights the rift among Democrats, with the party’s more radical wing rallying in support of the Green New Deal.
Criticism of the Bill
At a Subcommittee hearing (pdf) on Environment and Climate Change in September, however, Energy and Commerce Committee leader Greg Walden (R-Ore.) pointed out the inconsistencies in the Democrats’ climate proposals.
“The gap between rhetoric and reality among Democrats has gotten out of hand,” said Walden. “Leading Democrats are calling for the elimination of nuclear power.” He stated that, “Nearly every single major candidate wants to eliminate or phase out nuclear power,” but “nuclear represents over half of our nation’s carbon-free energy.”
In a recent statement, Bill Gates also indicated how difficult it would be to achieve the Democrat targets, saying: “Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions. These materials are everywhere in our lives, but we don’t have any proven breakthroughs that will give us affordable, zero-carbon versions of them. If we’re going to get to zero-carbon emissions overall, we have a lot of inventing to do.”
While the 100 Percent Clean Economy Act sets targets and goals to work toward in combating carbon and other emissions, it also exhibits a paucity of information on how such radical changes to the very foundations of the U.S. economy might be achieved while maintaining or increasing economic growth—and what the associated costs might be.
In order to provide sufficient wind and solar capacities, for example, extensive changes in land use would likely be necessary to provide the land necessary for an explosion in the number of wind farms and solar arrays. Furthermore, if fledgling energy storage technologies and capacities cannot be developed and installed fast enough, a back-up infrastructure of rapid-start-up natural gas turbines would be required to prevent widespread blackouts on cold, high-demand winter days when the wind stops blowing and solar arrays are covered in snow.
“Leading Democrats have also called for a ban on fracking and natural gas development,” said Walden. “The production of natural gas helped the United States become a global leader in energy production and a major energy exporter. It substantially helped us reduce our overall emissions—in 2017, U.S. carbon emissions were the lowest they have been since 1992, and they are projected to remain steady in upcoming years.
“The United States achieved these reductions while emissions were climbing in most of Asia and Europe. Such a ban would wipe out a major source of American prosperity, lead to Americans paying higher prices for the same energy, and increased reliance on foreign sources—with no impact on the world’s appetite for energy. This is not a serious approach,” he said.
“Unfortunately,” said Walden, “the all-or-nothing talking points from many Democrats are preventing us from building on the progress we made last Congress to reduce emissions, boost clean energy, and protect America’s economy and workers.”