This week, Sens. Merkley (D-OR) and Sanders (I-VT) launched a bill that takes a huge step toward aligning government policy with what climate science tells us is necessary – a transition to a 100% carbon-free economy, as soon as possible. While not perfect, the bill helpfully combines many of the policies needed to implement the transition to clean energy in a way that supports people over polluters.
The bill removes taxpayer handouts to oil, gas, and coal companies, places a moratorium on almost all major fossil fuel projects, and phases out fossil fuels from the nation’s energy system over the next 30 years. It does all of this while putting communities on the frontlines of the dirty energy economy – energy workers, low-income communities, and communities of color that have been starved of community investment for decades – at the center of a renewable energy build-out.
With this legislation, these Senate climate champions stand in stark contrast to the Trump Administration – which within its first 100 days laid out plans to decimate the public agencies that keep our families and environment safe while setting in motion an all-out giveaway to the fossil fuel industry (none of this comes as a shock, since Trump has stacked his Cabinet with oil execs, climate deniers, and industry shills).
The White House’s cozy connections with oil, gas, and coal – and the Administration’s wild hostility toward climate science – is exactly why this bill’s introduction is critical right now.
We know there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that the current head-in-the-sand 115th Congress would pass a piece of legislation to wind down the fossil fuel industry that has given them so much money in campaign contributions. But, much like the People’s Climate March this weekend, this bill is a bold statement of purpose. It’s a challenge to policymakers who call themselves climate champs to stand up and name what we need to keep our communities and planet safe. And the bill lays down a marker to show dirty energy companies – and Trumpian climate deniers – that their days in charge are numbered.
Is the bill everything we need? No, absolutely not.
But it’s an important next step in a conversation among policymakers, scientists, workers, climate activists, and people living with smokestacks, fracking wells, and rising seawater in their backyards.
It builds on other imperfect-but-visionary efforts and experiments from around the country. In 2015, Hawaii’s governor signed a bill making that state the first to direct utilities to generate 100% of their power from renewable energy by 2045.
Portland, OR, is proposing to meet all electricity demand with renewables by 2035, and to phase out fossil fuels from the transportation sector by 2050. It would complement a city ordinance passed in 2016 banning new terminals for coal, methanol, gas, and oil product storage and transport, and halting the expansion of existing facilities.
In Oakland, CA, the city council recently banned storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke within city limits, leaving a proposed export terminal to ship Utah coal through California to foreign markets all but dead in the water. In response to the outcry against fossil fuel infrastructure, California governor Jerry Brown signed a law specifically barring the state’s Transportation Commission from using public funds to subsidize projects that would help build new coal transportation facilities.
The changes made by these cities and states – and the people that powered them – start to sketch out a picture of what’s possible. But we know we need to do more. Much more.
We have enough fossil fuel resources under development around the planet today to blow past the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to well below 2°C. That means we have to stop fossil fuel expansion in its tracks now. No new oil wells. No new coal mines. No new gas pipelines.
The Merkley-Sanders 100% renewable energy bill is a strong opening salvo in the national debate on managing the decline of the fossil fuel industry. It’s up to us to push for an even more ambitious transformation of our energy, transportation, and food systems. We look forward to working with our partners at the frontlines of the fossil fuel fight to make this bill and other local, state, and federal policies reflect what science and justice say we need to keep all communities safe and healthy in the face of climate chaos.
Climate champions will (and should) keep asking each other how quickly we need to decarbonize our economy in order to avoid the worst climate disaster. When do we need to start saying no to new fossil fuel projects?
The answer will always be: As soon as possible.
And because each ton of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere translates into lives saved, the answer will also always be: It’s never too late to start.