Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) plans to introduce legislation later this month outlining how the United States can completely wean itself off fossil fuels by 2050, his office told The Huffington Post.
The senator plans to introduce the bill the week of April 24, shortly before the People’s Climate Movement, an annual protest for action on global warming that is expected to draw thousands of people to rallies across the country. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will co-sponsor the bill, called the “100 By ‘50 Act.”
“With an anti-science Congress and president in power right now, some might doubt that this is the right time to push for a bold new strategy to tackle climate change and make a massive fundamental shift in the way we produce energy,” Merkley said in a statement to HuffPost. “But the fact is, we don’t have four years to wait to begin this rapid transition.”
The legislation calls for half of all electricity in the U.S. to be generated by renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, by 2030.
The bill has little chance of becoming law in a Republican-dominated Congress under President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed global warming as a hoax and made boosting fossil fuel production a top priority. Instead, the legislation offers a vision of a future that competes with Trump’s plans for vigorous coal, oil and gas extraction and pipelines crisscrossing the continent.
Merkley staffers declined to outline specific policy proposals ahead of the bill’s rollout. But the strategy they described is twofold: encouraging the electrification of vehicles, home heating and other combustion-powered aspects of daily life on the one hand, and converting the power grid to zero-emissions energy sources on the other.
The legislation addresses the needs of low-income families and communities of color, who are disproportionately affected by pollution. According to a study from 2011 -- the most recent data cited by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- 68 percent of black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared to just 56 percent of the white population. As The Root noted in 2013, that may be why 1 in 6 African-American children suffer from asthma, compared to 1 in 10 U.S. children overall. The bill also proposes ways to transition fossil fuel workers, such as coal miners, into new careers.
“I actually think if you step outside the Beltway for a second, it reflects where the country is headed.”
Environmentalists are already planning to use the bill as a call to arms for eco-conscious voters who flooded activist organizations with donations after Trump’s election.
“There are many ways to resist Trump, and being clearer about our North Star is one,” Jason Kowalski, the policy director at the environmental group 350.org, told HuffPost by phone on Thursday. “We think, in the Trump era, the best defense is a good offense.”
Gaining ground on what has been criticized as a backfooted response to Trump’s climate policies is critical for Democrats, who are under intense pressure from constituents to deliver unto Trump the same sort of intransigent opposition Republicans staged against former President Barack Obama. Merkley aides stressed that the bill takes a bottom-up approach, building off progress that environmental activists have already made on a local level.
A vast majority of Americans said they disagreed with Trump’s hard-line climate stances, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll released last month. Three states ― California, Massachusetts and New York ― already have plans in place to practically end the use of fossil fuels within the next few decades. Two years ago, Hawaii passed a law to completely convert its electricity sector to renewable energy by 2045. Roughly 25 cities across the country have made similar commitments, as well as almost 90 big companies, including Bank of America, Google and Walmart.
“Its prospects aren’t great,” Rob Sargent, energy program director at the Boston-based nonprofit Environment America, told HuffPost of the Democratic legislation. “But it absolutely is putting us on the trajectory we need to be on in order to address the environmental challenges we face. And I actually think if you step outside the Beltway for a second, it reflects where the country is headed.”