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Senate Democrats' plan to fight climate change is better than nothing, I guess?

With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris setting the agenda with a comprehensive $2 trillion plan to get the United States to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Senate Democrats have followed suit, laying out a climate change plan of their own. On Tuesday, the party's Climate Committee presented a 255-page report that sets a path forward for the country to address the issue of climate change. While the plan will likely be part of the guiding framework that will be used to pass legislation should Biden win the presidency in November and the Democrats take control of the Senate in the process, the document provides a small step forward without setting any clear timeline.

The Senate Democrats' plan, much like Biden's own, puts clean energy front and center. It puts a focus on adopting more renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, framing the shift both as a means of moving the country away from carbon burning fuel sources and as a job creator. Echoing the Biden plan of pushing the country to net-zero emissions by 2050, the Democrats also say that investing in green energy solutions could create at least 10 million new jobs for the American people, building and sustaining renewable energy infrastructure.

A major part of the plan is consistent investment from the federal government on climate action. Within the report, the authors acknowledge that there is no time to wait around for markets to sort themselves out, even as renewable energy sources become more viable.

"Market-based policies alone cannot ensure that all communities will reap the environmental benefits that come from clean electricity,” the report states. To fill in the gaps that the invisible hand of the market tends to leave behind, the senators are calling on the federal government to spend at least two percent of GDP annually on climate action. Additionally, 40 percent of that spending will be specifically targeted to help communities of color and low-income areas to “ensure that national-level emission reductions directly relate to decreased pollution in individual communities.” These communities have often borne the brunt of environmental burdens. Policies that are the result of systemic racism have led to a worse quality of life for many marginalized groups, and pollution has proven to be particularly deadly for these communities.

These efforts, which put a particular focus on environmental justice and equity, represent a step in the right direction to address climate change. The plan also recognizes that time is of the essence, stating, "There is a closing window...to hold global temperature increase below catastrophic levels.” Which makes it slightly strange that the Democrats chose to avoid setting clear markers for when certain levels of decarbonization must be achieved. Establishing firm guidelines for this could encourage different sectors of the economy to start seriously gearing up for change. In the United Kingdom, for instance, leaders have set forth a goal to get all gas-guzzling vehicles off the road by 2035, at which point it expects all cars to be electric. Setting a similar date would tell the American auto industry to circle the year on the calendar and start gearing up its supply chain for the shift away from gas.

The plan largely avoids much of a crackdown on fossil fuels, though that outcome seems to be implied by embracing clean energy alternatives. It doesn't explicitly ban fracking, nor does it take any measures to end subsidies for fossil fuels. Perhaps it's a careful consideration by people who are still running for office and might not want to piss off moneyed interests, but it doesn't do the party any favors if it is trying to convey that it is finally, truly taking climate change seriously.