But to the frustration of some activists, the Senate proposal does not go as far as the House or Biden plans in restraining the supply of fossil fuels available to drillers. It does not call for a ban on oil drilling on public lands, for instance, and it suggests expanding a subsidy for capturing carbon before it enters the atmosphere, a policy that could benefit oil and gas firms.
The report’s focus on industrial policy reflects new thinking among climate advocates. American industrial policy has a long and successful history: It is part of why the movie industry, the software industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the fossil-fuel industry prospered in the U.S. Although the federal government once used industrial policy to grow the economy, the idea has fallen out of favor in the past few decades, giving way to more laissez-faire approaches. Yet industrial policy built the 19th-century railroads, the 20th-century suburbs and interstate highways, and the 21st-century internet. Germany, South Korea, and the U.K. have all used policy to develop green sectors of their economy; China has also used policy to boost renewables manufacturing and electric vehicles.
The Senate plan calls back to earlier American efforts to plan the economy. “In the 1930s, the U.S. government massively increased home ownership by creating institutions that made affordable mortgages possible,” the authors write. “Federal action can and should do the same for solar panels, energy retrofits, electric vehicles, and clean technology—and this time around, do so in a way that ensures all Americans benefit.”
The plan will matter only if Democrats take the Senate next year, which would require winning races in Arizona, North Carolina, Maine, or a few other states. Speaking to reporters today, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said that climate policy will be a “top priority if I become majority leader.” But Democrats will have a brief window—perhaps two years long, judging by recent history—to make good on that promise. This plan allows them to get right down to drafting a bill, Schatz said. It is their playbook, and it gives them lots of options depending on the circumstances.
“My judgment, watching what other states have done, is what matters the most is scale and ambition. And you could get there with a carbon tax. You could get there with a massive investment program. You could get there with regulation,” Schatz said. “But, you know, I don’t have pride of authorship here. If somebody has got a plan that enables us to solve this planetary crisis, I don’t care if it’s a brand-new plan, or a 20-year-old plan, or my plan.”
What matters above all is that it’s a plan that can pass the Senate. You can’t have a world’s greatest deliberative body without, well, the world.