With the country in shock after so much death and devastation from this summer's record flooding, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, President Biden and Progressive Democrats intend to capitalize on these events to push for more aggressive climate provisions in a $ 3.5 trillion budget bill.
Speaking on Thursday in Queens, where nearly a dozen people died the day before in flash flooding, Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York City said when the Senate returns to Washington on Tuesday to continue work on the budget, it would include provisions to reduce fossil fuel emissions related to extreme weather conditions.
Congress is also considering a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes funds to help communities guard against climate disasters. The Senate passed the bill last month and the House is expected to vote on it by the end of September.
This legislation includes funding of $ 47 billion over five years to improve the country's flood defenses, limit damage from forest fires, develop new sources of drinking water in drought-stricken areas and relocate certain communities far from risk areas. It also contains $ 27 billion in spending to help strengthen power grids against extreme weather events that cause more frequent power outages.
Mr. Schumer said infrastructure and budget bills were paramount in preparing communities for more powerful storms, fires, droughts and floods and in stopping pollution that would warm the planet further and lead to storms, more severe fires, droughts and floods; and even more extreme weather conditions.
"Global warming is upon us, and it will worsen more if we do nothing about it, and that's why it is so imperative to adopt two draft laws, infrastructure and the budget reconciliation bill , ”he said.
Of the two bills, the budget bill is the more perilous. Republicans uniformly oppose it because it also includes a range of social spending, like funds for universal child care. Some Democrats are also unhappy with the $ 3.5 trillion amount and want to reduce it. And although a few who initially hesitated because of the cost, they seem to have changed their minds and now say they could make an exception when it comes to climate provisions.
The budget bill will include a powerful tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - an incentive program designed to replace most of the country's coal and gas-fired power plants over the next decade with wind power plants. , solar and nuclear. This would be the strongest policy to fight climate change adopted by the United States.
President Biden and the Progressive Democrats say the summer disasters that have shocked the country - from deadly floods in New York to severe drought in the Midwest to the wildfires raging in California - will give them an effect of leverage in the negotiations around the budget bill. Progressive Democrats also hope to use the budget bill to make polluters pay for these clean energy programs - for example, by imposing tariffs on goods imported from countries that do not regulate greenhouse pollution, and royalties on emissions of methane, a gas that warms the planet. oil and gas well leaks.
It is far from certain that these provisions will be included in the details of the budget implementation bill. Because no Republican should vote for the final package, Democrats will need every vote of their very small majorities in the House and Senate to get it through.
But this week, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin III called on Congress to "take a strategic break" on the bill. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote: “I always said if I couldn't explain it, I couldn't vote for, and I couldn't explain why my fellow Democrats rushing to spend $ 3.5 trillion. "
A spokeswoman for Mr. Manchin did not return an email requesting comment.
Mr. Manchin, whose coal-rich state could be affected by climate legislation aimed at phasing out fossil fuels, has been rather elusive about the program to replace coal and gas power plants with zero energy sources. emission . If he or a Democrat from a coal, oil or gas state objects to the provision, it could be removed from the final version.
Minnesota Democrat Senator Tina Smith, chief author of the Power Plant Study, said she believes the extreme weather conditions that have so recently burned, flooded and destroyed so many parts of the country would make things difficult. harder over the next two weeks for any Democrat to justify their cut.
"Over the past two days, this part of the state has experienced one of the most extreme droughts we've seen in a generation," said Mrs. Smith, who spoke by phone from Minnesota. “I spent the day yesterday talking to the cattle ranchers. They are liquidating their herds much sooner than they would have done. They don't have the food and fodder to keep their flocks together. And I cannot believe that I am the only senator to hear about it while I am at home. When you think about the extent of extreme weather conditions all over the country. I think this situation shapes the negotiations. "
Meanwhile, in a letter to California President Nancy Pelosi, two representatives, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Henry Cuellar of Texas, both moderate Democrats, laid out the "general principles" they wanted to see drafted by them. legislators. details of the budget implementation bill. Both members were among the group of moderate and conservative Democrats who first backed down from passing the original $ 3.5 trillion budget before Ms Pelosi issued a series of pledges, including the assurance that the measure would be fully funded and would not include any provisions that could not be clear.
But in the letter, first reported by Politico and later obtained by The New York Times, the two Democrats said they were prepared to make a possible exception for climate change-related spending because the cost estimates non-partisan “do not sufficiently consider the future costs associated with inaction on the climate crisis.
While efforts to reduce emissions remain controversial, there is a broader consensus on the need to prepare communities for the impacts of extreme weather conditions. Few places in the United States have been untouched by this summer's series of disasters: raging rivers in Tennessee, a hurricane in Louisiana, a deadly heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and flooding in New York City. .
The Senate-approved infrastructure bill would mark a significant change in the federal government's approach to extreme weather events. Rather than simply paying to rebuild communities after disasters, the bill would provide the largest amount of federal funds ever injected into the economy to be proactive and prepare states and cities for future climate impacts. .
For example, the Department of Transportation would receive $ 8.7 billion to help states deal with future climate risks to their roads and transit systems. Much of the country's infrastructure has been designed to cope with the weather conditions of the past, which are becoming increasingly obsolete as the planet warms. This week, the New York City subway, parts of which were designed a century ago, came to a halt after a storm dumped huge amounts of water in stations and tunnels.
Many of these provisions have received support from Republicans, including those who have dismissed the threat of climate change in the past. In an interview with CNBC this week, Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, urged his party to rally behind the infrastructure bill after Hurricane Ida left a spectacle of desolation in his state.
"If we are to make our country more resilient to natural disasters, wherever they are, we must start preparing now," said Mr. Cassidy. “I really hope Republicans look around and see this damage and say, 'If there is money for resilience, money to strengthen the network, money to help. sewers and water, so maybe that's something we should come to terms with. "
But while climate experts have praised many of the resilience measures contained in the bill, they have warned that this is unlikely to be enough, as the nation's needs will certainly increase as climate change evolves. fuels increasingly severe storms, floods, forest fires and droughts. In 2018, the federal government's national climate assessment estimated that adapting to climate change could ultimately cost "tens to hundreds of billions of dollars a year."
“If we are serious about getting ahead of the curve of increasingly significant climate impacts, it is not enough to do just one resilience bill every five years,” said Rob Moore, analyst Senior Policy Officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council. . “We need to start building resilience measures into every dollar governments spend on infrastructure. "
So far, there appears to be little enthusiasm in Congress to expand the provisions contained in the infrastructure bill, although some lawmakers have been pushing for additional measures in the budget bill. Some progressive Democrats, for example, pushed for the creation of the Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after a New Deal program, which would hire young Americans to work on a variety of climate resilience projects.
But even though the adaptation measures garner broad bipartisan support, some experts warn they could soon reach their limit unless countries like the United States quickly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and slow down. rhythm. of global warming.
“We're not even ready for the disasters that hit us now,” said Rachel Cleetus, director of climate policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And there is simply no way to get ahead of what lies ahead if we can't control our emissions and climate change. "