WASHINGTON – As the country is rocked by the cascade of death and devastation from this summer’s record floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires, President Biden and Progressive Democrats seize the moment to shake off a sweeping $ 3.5 trillion budget to push for aggressive climate regulations.
In a speech on Thursday in Queens, where nearly a dozen people died in flash floods the day before, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said that if the Senate returned to Washington on Tuesday to continue work on budget law, this would include: Provisions to reduce fossil fuel emissions associated with extreme weather conditions.
Congress is also considering a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes funds to help communities ward off climate disasters. The Senate passed the bill last month and the House of Representatives is expected to vote on it in late September.
This legislation includes $ 47 billion over five years to improve the country’s flood control, limit forest fire damage, develop new sources of drinking water in drought-stricken areas, and relocate some communities from risk areas. It also includes $ 27 billion in spending to harden power grids against extreme weather events that cause more frequent power outages.
Mr Schumer said the infrastructure and budget bills were paramount in preparing communities for stronger storms, fires, droughts and floods, and stopping the pollution that would further heat the planet and lead to even more extreme weather conditions.
“Global warming is just around the corner and it’s getting worse and worse if we don’t do something about it, which is why it is so urgent to pass the two bills, the Infrastructure Act and the Budget Balancing Act,” he said.
Of the two laws, the draft budget points the more dangerous way. Republicans are unanimously against it because it also includes a range of social expenditures, such as funds for universal childcare. Some Democrats are also dissatisfied with the $ 3.5 trillion price tag and want to scale it back, though some who originally held back on the cost are now saying they may be making an exception when it comes to climate regulations.
The draft budget will include an effective tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – an incentive program designed to replace most of the country’s coal and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear power plants over the next decade. It would be America’s strongest policy to combat climate change.
President Biden and Progressive Democrats say the summer disasters that shocked the country, from deadly flooding in New York to severe drought in the Midwest to raging forest fires in California, will put pressure on them as they negotiate the budget. Progressive Democrats also hope the draft budget will make polluters pay for these clean electricity programs – for example, tariffs on imported goods from countries that don’t regulate greenhouse gas emissions and charges on methane, a planet-warming gas made from oil. and gas sources emerge.
It is far from certain whether these provisions will be included in the details of the draft budget. With no Republicans expected to vote for the final package, Democrats will need every vote by their wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate to get it through
But this week Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, urged Congress to “take a strategic pause” on the bill. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote, “I’ve always said that if I can’t explain, I can’t vote for it, and I can’t explain why my fellow Democrats are rushing to spend $ 3.5 trillion.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Manchin did not return an email asking for a comment.
Mr Manchin, whose coal-rich state could be harmed by climate legislation to phase out fossil fuels, has shown himself to be non-binding with regard to the program to replace coal and gas-fired power plants with emission-free energy sources. If he or another Democrat from a coal, oil or gas country opposed the provision, it could be removed from the final version.
Floods in New York
9/3/2021, 5:09 p.m. ET
But Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, the lead author of the power plant regulation, said she believed the extreme weather that so recently scorched, inundated and devastated so many regions of the country would make it harder for any Democrat in the next two weeks to justify to shorten it.
“The past few days this part of the state has been in one of the most extreme droughts we have seen in a generation,” said Ms. Smith, who spoke on the phone from Minnesota. “I spoke to ranchers yesterday that they are liquidating their herds much earlier than they would have done. They have neither the fodder nor the fodder to keep their herds together. And I can’t believe I’m the only senator who hears about it while I’m at home, considering the extreme weather conditions across the country. And I think this dynamic characterizes the negotiations. “
In a letter to spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, two representatives, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Henry Cuellar of Texas, both moderate Democrats, set out “overriding principles” they wanted to see as lawmakers write the details of the draft budget. Both members were part of the group of moderate and conservative Democrats who initially flinched when the original $ 3.5 trillion budget was passed before Ms. Pelosi made a number of pledges, including assurances that the move would be fully funded and would not contain any provisions that could not be cleared to the Senate.
But in the letter, first published by Politico and later received by the New York Times, the two Democrats said they were ready to make a possible exception for spending to combat climate change, given non-partisan cost estimates “the future costs involved not adequately taken into account “. with inaction in the climate crisis. “
While efforts to reduce emissions remain controversial, there is broad consensus that communities need to be prepared for the effects of extreme weather conditions. Few corners of the country were spared this summer’s disasters: rivers overflowing Tennessee, a hurricane in Louisiana, a deadly heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, and flooding in New York City.
The infrastructure draft passed by the Senate would mean a major change in the way the federal government deals with extreme weather events. Rather than simply paying to rebuild communities after disasters, the bill would provide the largest single infusion of federal funds ever allocated to prepare states and cities for future climate impacts.
For example, the Department of Transportation would receive $ 8.7 billion to help states manage future climate risks to their roads and transportation systems. Much of the country’s infrastructure has been developed to cope with past weather conditions, which are becoming increasingly obsolete as the planet warms. This week, the New York City subway, parts of which were designed a century ago, was paralyzed after a storm poured huge amounts of water into 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 step up the infrastructure bill after Hurricane Ida left a trail of destruction in his state.
“If we want to make our country more resilient to natural disasters, we must start preparations now,” said Cassidy. “I hope that Republicans will take a look around my state, see this damage, and say, ‘If there’s money for resilience, money to strengthen the grid, money for sanitation and water, then maybe we should be for it.” ”
But while climate experts praised many of the resilience measures in the bill, they warned that this would likely not be enough, as the country’s needs are sure to increase as climate change fuels increasingly violent storms, floods, forest fires and droughts. In 2018, the federal government’s National Climate Assessment estimated that adaptation to climate change could ultimately cost “tens to hundreds of billions of dollars a year”.
“If we really want to stay ahead of the global climate change curve, it is not enough to have a one-time resilience bill every five years,” said Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We have to start weaving resilience measures into every dollar that governments spend on infrastructure.”
There seems to be little appetite in Congress at the moment for an expansion of the adaptation provisions in the Infrastructure Act, although some legislators have urged additional measures in the draft budget. For example, some progressive Democrats have pushed for the creation of the Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after a New Deal program that young Americans would hire to work on a variety of climate resilience projects.
But even if adaptation measures find widespread bipartisan support, some experts warn that if countries like the United States do not quickly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of global warming, they could soon reach their limits.
“We’re not even ready for the disasters that lie ahead,” said Rachel Cleetus, climate policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And we just won’t be able to stay ahead of future developments if we don’t get our emissions and climate change under control.”
Emily Cochrane contributed to the coverage.