Trump stands in way of protecting our planet. It's up to the next president.
Editor's note: The following opinion piece by S. David Freeman and Switzer Fellow John J. Berger was first published by Detroit Free Press.
The epic infernos in Australia and the Amazon along with so many other telltale signs of climate disruption are but a few of Mother Nature's ever-more-urgent wake-up calls.
Her message is now unmistakable: We need to phase out fossil fuels on a rapid timetable, starting now.
The UN has reported that if we continue with business as usual, we can expect an intolerable global heating of 5 degrees Celsius by 2100. So finally, we are out of time.
In the U.S., however, a huge obstacle stands in the way. President Trump is not going to sign any meaningful climate legislation.
The nation therefore needs to look beyond the current administration’s climate obstructionism. We must start considering laws now that ultimately outlaw fossil fuels. Otherwise, America will be unprepared to take bold meaningful climate action in 2021.
Yes, the Democratic candidates for president are promising an end to fossil fuels by 2050 or sooner. But none is proposing specific legislation that will get us started toward that goal in 2021.
Proposing to end climate pollution decades from now is not a “profile in courage.” Our emissions of fossil fueled greenhouse gases are continuing to increase. Scientists today are warning that we must begin slashing emissions now and get it done in a decade or so. The proposed Green New Deal points in the right direction. But to realize the massive shift to renewable energy at the heart of it, we urgently need powerful federal action.
We urge that the candidates for President debate and support — and the next Congress enact — the following new federal mandates:
First, require all new power plants to use zero-emission renewable energy technologies and all utilities to reduce all existing carbon pollution from power plants by 8.5 percent of 2020 emissions per year so as to reach zero in 12 years.
Second, require that all new buildings must be powered entirely by renewable energy by 2022. All existing buildings should, by law, be required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5 percent of 2020 emissions per year.
A third law would address transportation pollution. Just as in Norway and the Netherlands, all new cars, trucks or buses sold in the U.S. must by law be zero-emission by 2030. Starting in 2021, at least 10% of each auto manufacturer’s vehicles sold should be zero-emission, increasing 10% a year to 100% in 2030.
For the next five years, a $10,000 federal tax credit or prorated subsidy would be provided for EV vehicles of $40,000 or less. A steadily increasing federal surcharge of $1,000 each year increasing to a maximum of $10,000 should be added to the price of new fossil-fueled vehicles. Cash payments should be paid to hasten the scrapping of gasoline vehicles.
Fourth, a Federal Railroad Electrification Authority should be enacted with the duty to finance and build an all-electric rail system connecting the major U.S. cities.
Fifth, by Jan. 1, 2025, airlines should be required to reduce their fleet GHG emissions by 5 percent of 2020 emissions each year until they reach zero through the use of greater efficiency, renewable fuels, and hybrid or electric propulsion if available.
Sixth, a national Green Bank should be created to provide loans to finance the investments needed to implement all of the various mandates we propose, including low-to-zero interest loans to cement, steel, and other industries to modernize and decarbonize their production. These federal investments would more than pay for themselves over time by making these industries more efficient and competitive.
Seventh, because a great deal of CO2 persists in the atmosphere long after it is discharged, just zeroing out annual carbon emissions will not immediately stop the ongoing heating of the planet. We therefore also propose a national carbon credit plan for farmers, ranchers, foresters, other resource managers and private investors to be eligible for tax credits or payments of up to $100 for each properly certified ton of carbon removed from the atmosphere.
Billions of tons of carbon dioxide can, with current technology, be safely removed by plants and stored for long periods in soils at costs as low as $20 or less per ton, especially in developing countries.
We challenge all the candidates for President to boldly pledge that in their first 90 days, they will call for a joint session of Congress and, in person, present legislation similar to what we are proposing. The candidates should also pledge to personally lobby for that bill until it is enacted, as President Lyndon Johnson did for the landmark 1965 Civil Rights Act.
S. David Freeman is the former chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority and former CEO of major public utilities including the New York Power Authority and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He has been an energy adviser to Presidents Nixon, Johnson, and Carter and to various governors. John J. Berger is a senior researcher at the Pacific Institute and the author of books on energy, climate, and natural resources. He is completing a new book called "Transformation: Turning Climate Crisis into Jobs and Prosperity."