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A Bill to Honor Paris Agreement Goals Could Be the First Climate Legislation to Pass the House This Year

Though the vote is expected to be along party lines, it's more likely to gain the support of some Republicans than previous climate bills.
President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 1st, 2017.

President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 1st, 2017.

This week, the House of Representatives is set to vote on a new resolution aimed at mitigating the impacts of President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

The bill, known as the Climate Action Now Act, would functionally reinstate United States participation in the Paris Agreement. The bill first prohibits the Trump administration from using federal funds to withdraw from the agreement. Second, the bill would require Trump to develop a plan (updated annually) for the U.S. to meet its contributions to the agreement, including greenhouse gas emission cuts (by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025), and require that the Trump administration work to ensure that other parties to the agreement are fulfilling their contributions.

The bill is expected to be the first climate legislation passed by the newly Democratically controlled House, although it is expected to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Here's what you need to know about this bill and the state of environmental legislation in Congress.

Congressional Polarization

The votes for the Climate Action Now Act are expected be along party lines, following the trend of partisan voting records on recent environmental legislation. Though the bill is more moderate than previous climate change bills, both Democratic and Republican representatives have attached a slew of amendments.

The House Committee on Rules met on Monday afternoon to decide which amendments will be allowed for floor consideration.

Many Democrats asked for additions to the resolution detailing negative impacts from climate change such as effects on national security (not accepted), environmental justice (accepted), and the global refugee crisis (accepted). These resolutions don't substantially change the content of the bill, but rather push for greater acknowledgement within the bill of the broad impacts of climate change.

Some Republican amendments, meanwhile, targeted the feasibility of the plan from an economic standpoint, although they generally were not accepted by the committee. Representative Lloyd Smucker's (R-Pennsylvania) amendment (not accepted) asked for a description of how the bill would function without increasing the federal government’s annual budget deficit. Representative Kevin Hern's (R-Oklahoma) amendment (not accepted) would require projected job loss from the legislation to be added to the findings section of the bill.

Other amendments represented the worry among Republicans that progressive climate change legislation will hurt the U.S.'s ability to compete in the global market. Representative Ron Wright's (R-Texas) amendment (not accepted) would have made it so that the U.S.'s carbon restriction measures would take effect at the same time as India and China's. This was a major talking point for Trump, who criticized the fact that India and China will still be able to grow for 13 years (to protect their developing economies) by reaching peak emissions by 2030 and working to reduce them thereafter. Wright's amendment would have either delayed U.S. adoption of the carbon emissions goals or amplified efforts to encourage India and China to curb emissions sooner.

One critical economic evaluation of the bill that was accepted was Representative Mark DeSaulnier's (D-California) amendment requiring the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a report on the impact of the bill on U.S. workers and U.S. global competitiveness.

Other amendments would have altered the fundamental goals of the bill. For example, Representative Bill Flores' (R-Texas) amendment (not accepted) would have attached the entire text of the Green New Deal to the end of the bill. By forcing the House to vote on progressive climate action, Flores would be invoking the debate that polarized—and stalled—Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-New York) Green New Deal.

The accepted amendments generally encouraged increasing acknowledgement of potential impacts of climate change, supporting clean energy, and promoting accountability among other signatories, while amendments that fundamentally changed the goals or scope of the bill were dismissed.

Even with the amendments that were accepted (although they still have to be debated and voted on in the House), the bill is still designed to be more moderate than its recent predecessors, and is likely to gain (at a minimum) broad support from Democrats.

A Potential Path Forward?

It's possible that there will be some party defections among a select group of Republicans who disagreed with the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

For example, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania), the only GOP co-sponsor of a Democratic resolution supporting the Paris Agreement, could be a potential Republican ally for this resolution. Fitzpatrick is part of a vocal group of congressional Republicans who criticized Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Also in that group is Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who told the Los Angeles Times at the time that she was disappointed in the decision to withdraw.

Beyond the Paris Agreement, the GOP has recently been cultivating a stronger stance on tackling climate issues. Last week, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said that the party needs to "cross the Rubicon" on climate, and to develop climate legislation encouraging energy efficiency.

Democrats appear to be leveraging that momentum: At a press event introducing the Climate Action Now Act in March, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi used Republican talking points to argue in favor of the bill, stating that it would benefit the economy and boost U.S. competitiveness in green technology, as well as defend U.S. national security.

Although the resolution doesn't provide comprehensive or structural changes to mitigate climate change, it serves as a small—but moderate and potentially bipartisan—step toward such changes. "This bill is only step one," Pelosi said.