Declaring Our Independence from Fossil Fuels

Maggie Dewane

July 2, 2021

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for all people to dissolve the reliance on finite energy sources, and to assume a sustainable future, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the demands of humankind requires that they should declare an end to fossil fuel dependence. 

Six in ten Americans support dramatic reduction of the country’s fossil fuel use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. While this isn’t a unanimous declaration, it represents a truth that policymakers and big corporations have been resisting: The majority of Americans believe there is urgency in addressing climate change and that transitioning away from fossil fuels is a necessary component of climate action.

To establish our independence from fossil fuels, there is no silver bullet, but a multitiered solutions approach that includes sector-specific actions. While corporations bear enormous responsibility in phasing out fossil fuels, government action is equally important. In the Center for Progressive Reform’s report, Climate, Energy, Justice: The Policy Path to a Just Transition for an Energy-Hungry America, legal scholars approach climate action and justice with a holistic lens to provide policy recommendations for transportation, electricity, and public lands, while considering how governance mechanisms and existing regulations will play a role. 

Here are the topline recommendations:

Electricity Policy

  • Congress must establish a federal clean energy standard
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must incorporate clean energy policy into its decisions
  • Congress must expand federal authority over building interstate electric transmission lines to allow more renewable energy resources to access the electric grid 

Transportation Policy

  • The president should revitalize fuel efficiency requirements
  • The federal government must electrify the federal vehicle fleet
  • Both state and federal governments must invest in mass transit, creating walkable and bikeable cities, and implement land use design that reduces the need to drive

Public Lands Policy

  • Congress should enact sequential mitigation legislation, which is a step-by-step strategy used elsewhere in the world to prevent environmental harms and restore land
  • The president should order a phase out of non-renewable energy development
  • Congress should add legislation to national forest planning rules to ensure sustainability in the face of climate change

Since President Joe Biden took office, his administration has prioritized some of these policy recommendations, including electrifying the federal vehicle fleet, accelerating renewable energy transmission on the U.S. electric grid, postponing nonrenewable onshore energy lease sales, and others. Additionally, the president’s $2 trillion proposed infrastructure plan includes developing a clean electricity standard, investing in clean public transportation and sustainable urban planning, and restoring nature-based infrastructure to protect both communities and the environment. 

Congress, on the other hand, has made little progress on environmental, energy, and climate matters this session. Of nearly 7,500 bills that have been introduced in Congress this year, only 26 have passed both chambers and been sent to the president; none relate to establishing clean energy standards, protecting natural resources, or addressing environmental injustices.

While negotiations on any new policy take time, the extended debate on how and when to phase out fossil fuels in the United States is downright frightening. Through the course of human events, we have set ourselves on a downward trajectory in which a sustainable future shifts further from our grasp. The time of dependence on fossil fuels must end. It’s time to declare our independence.

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