Senate ‘Detour’ Puts Biden Climate Plan at Risk
One of the staunchest proponents of climate action in the United States Senate is warning that a fast, ambitious approach to carbon reductions may be falling off the Biden administration’s priority list.
“OK, I’m now officially very anxious about climate legislation. I’ll admit I’m sensitive from the Obama climate abandonment, but I sense trouble,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) tweeted Monday, in the opening segment of a six-point thread.
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“Climate has fallen out of the infrastructure discussion, as it took its bipartisanship detour. It may not return. So then what?” he asked. “I don’t see the preparatory work for a close Senate climate vote taking place in the administration. Why not marshal business support?”
So far, “corporate America is still completely AWOL if not worse on climate in Congress. All the major corporate trade associations suck—all of them,” Whitehouse added. And on the community side, “groups and advocates are quarreling—My way! No, my way! We need everything, not ‘my thing’. Oy.”
He added that “oceans are a big part of climate and so far no significant oceans/coasts effort apparent in administration. Trying to repair that in Senate.”
President Joe Biden has spent a good part of the last month trying to negotiate with Senate Republicans on a bipartisan infrastructure plan, hamstrung by voting rules that require support form 60% of senators on major decisions. Democrats and Republicans in Senate each hold 50 seats in the 100-member chamber, which means Democrats can pass some legislation with Vice-President Kamala Harris breaking the tie in her role as Senate President—as long as all 50 Democrats vote in unison.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been identified as a major obstacle to much of the Biden agenda, and CNBC is reporting this week that he’s under pressure from the Koch network to oppose his own party’s legislative priorities.
Last week, Grist warned that the administration “only climate plan” is in jeopardy. By the time Biden unveiled his US$2.25-trillion American Jobs Plan in April, it was already scaled back from the $10 trillion progressive Democrats had calculated for their Green New Deal. But it “included huge spending on clean energy, a civilian jobs program known as the ‘climate corps’, and a push to get electric cars on the road all across America. It was without question Biden’s primary plan to cut carbon emissions. The only one. The big one.”
But now, “key features of the bill—like a requirement to produce electricity from clean sources, or hundreds of billions of dollars in support for electric vehicles—are in contention as Republicans and Democrats tussle over the price tag,” Grist said. “And without them, the country’s chance of cutting carbon emissions 50% by 2030—as Biden recently promised at his international climate summit—is basically zero.”
Grist has more on the political machinations that have been afoot.
When Biden released his 2022 budget two weeks ago, CNBC reported that it included $36 billion for climate programming, an increase of $14 billion over 2021, with “large new investments” in areas like clean energy, climate and sustainability research, and water infrastructure. E&E News cast the entire $6-trillion budget as a “whole of government” approach to climate, while The Hill pointed to an administration plan to cut fossil fuel tax benefits by $35 billion.
But in the U.S. more than in Canada, the budget is seen less as a final government financial blueprint and more as a first pitch to kick off negotiations with often fractious legislators in the House and the Senate. In this case, E&E calls Biden’s plan “an opening salvo in a likely lengthy battle with Congress to get his ambitious spending and policy goals enacted.”
Meanwhile, one of the few areas where U.S. legislators are showing any bipartisan spirit may be bad news on the climate and energy file, after the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee adopted a 450-page surface transportation funding bill with provisions that weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“The rollbacks excuse certain categories of infrastructure projects from the environmental review process, establish time and page limits on environmental reviews, and expand a program that gives individual states authority over reviews,” Grist wrote last week. “Taken separately, the provisions seem to only tweak NEPA, but critics say they are part of a long-term effort by Republicans to whittle away at the law’s authority and could have significant impacts on communities across the country.”
“It’s making Swiss cheese of the NEPA statute by putting an increasing number of holes in it,” said Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Policy Advisor Deron Lovaas.”