Senior Vice President, Policy
September 24, 2020
As the 2020 election year began, conventional wisdom held there was no appetite in Congress to take meaningful, effective action to address climate change. It was argued the issue is simply not a priority for the Trump Administration, and there is far too much division on Capitol Hill for Republicans and Democrats to work together on this important issue.
Conventional wisdom can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in Washington, but we didn’t buy it then and we certainly aren’t buying it now. Momentum for potentially historic climate and energy innovation legislation appears to be growing on Capitol Hill, and the Chamber is proud to be part of a diverse coalition working to make it happen.
Take the issue of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, for example. Critical in refrigeration, fire suppression, medical applications and elsewhere, HFCs also happen to be potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The Chamber was an early supporter of bipartisan legislation to phase down their production and use, but the bill faced opposition and most observers viewed the issue as a dead letter and missed opportunity.
Thanks to the leadership of three senators committed to practical solutions, however, conventional wisdom took one on the chin earlier this month with the announcement of a deal to phase out HFCs nationwide over the next 15 years. Throughout negotiations the Chamber helped drive consensus among industry stakeholders and environmental groups in support of the breakthrough.
In addition to contributing to a global effort on HFCs that could result in up to a 0.5°C reduction in temperature, this bipartisan compromise will create thousands of manufacturing jobs for American workers while growing the U.S. share of the world market for heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration equipment. We remain hopeful the bill will be signed into law this year.
One good turn deserves another, and the HFC agreement could also clear a path in the Senate for another climate-related priority for the Chamber: energy and climate innovation legislation. Our Global Energy Institute has long focused on the role of technology innovation to meet future energy needs with fewer emissions and a lower carbon footprint.
From battery storage and grid modernization to advanced nuclear and carbon removal technologies, we’ve led a diverse coalition of think tanks, environmental and industry organizations urging Congress to enact bipartisan legislation to increase federal R&D and facilitate demonstration and commercialization of these critical technologies.
This legislation is poised for movement in the Senate, and a related package is on the House floor this week. We are working to ensure contentious issues are addressed so a bipartisan package can be enacted this year.
But development and demonstration of emissions-reducing technologies is not enough. If we are serious about getting these and other advanced technologies adopted in the marketplace, we must ensure the clean energy infrastructure is available to build and commercialize them. That requires making the federal permitting process more predictable and transparent.
Emissions-reducing technologies of all kinds will benefit if Congress requires timely and focused environmental reviews. The Chamber led a diverse coalition to promote important updates to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, and we are urging Congress to reauthorize FAST-41 to continue that program’s success in coordinating federal agency action.
We’ve also been successful at promoting policies to ensure we build modern, resilient infrastructure. Programs like the Resilience Revolving Loan Fund focus on pre-disaster mitigation and expand the tools available to reduce climate risks.
Our efforts are guided by the Chamber’s approach to climate change, which was updated last year. First and foremost we recognize that much common ground exists for all interests to come together and address this challenge with policies that are practical, flexible, predictable, and durable. In addition to advancing technology and innovation, we believe we must encourage international cooperation, promote climate resilient infrastructure, pursue greater energy efficiency, and leverage the power of business to achieve those outcomes.
In short, inaction is not an option, and we should move forward with sensible solutions that get results.
The business community is responsible for developing and implementing the technology and infrastructure solutions that will allow for real climate progress. We are proud of the vast investments and commitments that have already been made, and will assist our members as they continue leading the way.
As the world battles the pandemic and seeks economic recovery, the opportunity exists to invest in climate-friendly technology and infrastructure that will both create jobs and improve the environment. More will need to be done to meet the climate challenge, but we urge Congress and the Administration to take advantage of these opportunities as soon as possible.
About the authors
Senior Vice President, Policy
Martin (Marty) Durbin is president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute (GEI). Durbin leads GEI’s efforts to build support for meaningful energy action through policy development, education, and advocacy, making it a go-to voice for commonsense energy solutions.