Congress Looks to Planning as a Climate Crisis Solution

With transit, parks, green design, land use, building codes, and more, local planning issues play an important role in the major new climate change agenda released by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Establishing the Select Committee was among the first actions approved by Democrats when they took control of the House following the 2018 elections. Seventeen months later and on the cusp of another election, the Select Committee has detailed a comprehensive congressional agenda for tackling climate change — and planning could play a leading role.

"Solving the Climate Crisis" Comprehensive Plan

Cover of congressional Climate Crisis Action Plan.

Over its more than 500 pages "Solving the Climate Crisis" outlines big goals, economy-wide net zero carbon emissions by 2050, big aspirations, a new national commitment to a "moonshot" approach to climate change, and granular policy detail covering a wide range of topics.

The recommendations are built around 12 "key pillars" with detailed legislative suggestions in each area. The pillars cover infrastructure, clean energy, zero-emission technology, workforce issues, environmental justice, public health, agriculture, resiliency, natural resources, national security and international leadership, and core institutions.

While the much-anticipated report was released on the steps of the Capitol, it has virtually no hope of making its way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to become law. Election politics and divided control of Congress mean that the proposals will not have traction in the Senate.

However, the real purpose and import of the report and recommendations are to lay the foundation for work in the next Congress.

The recommendations become the foundation for what a future administration and Congress would pursue. Already the plan is sending important signals about the shape of the climate debate and policy.

Climate Crisis Action Plan Recommendations

The report highlights some important trends likely to influence future climate legislation and policy. The Select Committee, led by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), takes an ambitious approach to using standards to drive emission reductions. New standards are recommended in a variety of sectors, including energy, transportation, buildings, resilience, and industrial emissions. The report calls for carbon pricing and sees pricing as an important and complementary element but places a strong focus on standards.

Funding for new technologies, innovations, and infrastructure is also a key focus.

Among the recommendations in several areas is the idea of a new national climate bank. The implications of widespread electrification of infrastructure and transportation are addressed with a series of suggestions for not only promoting electric vehicles but also decarbonizing the energy sector and improving the energy grid to better support renewables.

Addressing climate impacts on vulnerable communities is also a major theme of the recommendations. The report calls for significantly expanding environmental justice programs, funding, and initiatives to put it "at the center of federal climate and environmental policy."

The release of the report was delayed by the pandemic and landed amid an ongoing national conversation about racial justice and equity. The report acknowledges that now might feel like an odd moment to focus on climate change. The authors argue that climate issues "cannot wait" and our actions on climate have deep implications and impacts on both health and equity.

Addressing climate, they argue, is also a platform for deep reinvention. "Climate solutions must have justice and equity at their core."

Planning Can Lead the Way on Climate Action

The report includes a range of planning-focused policies. Infrastructure policies discuss EV infrastructure, public transportation, mobility options and access, building codes, water systems, and addressing emissions through smart land use and design. The connection between climate and transportation planning is also reflected in the ongoing surface transportation legislation debate in which APA is actively engaged.

APA provided the Select Committee with ideas for how federal climate policy can set the context for effective local and regional plans.

The proposed policies in the report underscore the critical role of planners in addressing climate change. In several areas, particularly infrastructure, energy, environmental justice, and resiliency, the report notes the importance of local action. On resilience and hazard mitigation, in particular, it lauds local communities and regions for leading the way through innovative plans.

The resiliency recommendations would strengthen the role of planning. They call for a stronger federal role in building codes, setting resiliency standards, overhauling flood mapping, providing better data to communities, funding mitigation, and bolstering local community engagement — all key to good planning.

As pressure mounts for a stronger federal role in tackling climate change, lawmakers can support the implementation of critical projects, use of performance measures, climate-focused codes and design, and effective community engagement in plans and the planning process.

APA is currently updating policy positions and recommendations for climate change as part of expanded advocacy to ensure that Washington acts, and acts wisely, on this critical, existential issue. As the report itself cautions, "We cannot wait."

Top image: Light rail in Los Angeles. Getty Images photo.

About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's policy director.

July 8, 2020

By Jason Jordan