WASHINGTON (AP) – As President Joe Biden visited one disaster site after another this summer – from wildfires in California to hurricane-induced flooding in Louisiana and New York – he said climate change is “Everyone’s crisis” and that America must take seriously the “code red” danger posed by global warming.
In many ways, the President is making up for lost time.
Biden and Democrats pursue a sweeping $ 3.5 trillion federal overhaul that includes landmark measures to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in what would be the most significant environmental policies ever adopted, after years of bursts.
Sidelined after the former administration’s withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate accord – the 2015 global effort to tackle climate change – the United States has returned to the arena, Biden promising to world leaders in April that the United States would halve carbon pollution by 2030.
But the pursuit of Biden’s climate goals largely depends on passing the Democratic package, and it will take the weight of the White House to strike the deal between centrist and progressive lawmakers, including disputes over his climate provisions.
“This is where he earns his legacy,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Said of Biden.
As Democrats rush to complete a package that touches almost every aspect of American life, climate change-related proposals are proving to be a sticking point, especially among key centrist lawmakers.
The president met with Democratic Sense Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona on Tuesday as Democrats cut back on the overall package price and marshal’s backing. With Republicans stranded against the plan, Democrats have little voice to spare as they try to push it through on their own.
“This is President Pelosi’s great socialist agenda to destroy freedom and embolden our enemies at the expense of American families,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington State, the top Republican on the House Energy panel and Trade.
Yet for many Democrats and the voters who elected them, the climate provisions are among the most important elements of the far-reaching bill. A poll conducted last month by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 83% of Democrats are very concerned about climate change, compared to just 21% of Republicans.
“It’s a ‘Code Red’ moment, but Democrats are answering the call,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, chair of a special House committee on climate change.
“Our only hope to avert catastrophe is to act urgently – to act now,” Castor said on Capitol Hill Tuesday. She called climate change a “clear and present danger to American families facing brutal heat waves, devastating floods, failing electricity grids and historic wildfires.”
The Democratic plan will make historic investments in clean energy, climate resilience and environmental justice, she said. “We have to do it right. “
The massive legislation includes a national clean electricity program that aims to eliminate climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions from U.S. power plants by 2035, catching up with requirements already set in some states.
The proposal would spend billions to install 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations and upgrade the electricity grid to make it more resilient to hurricanes and other extreme weather events that are increasing and intensifying due to climate change.
The measure would also create a New Deal-style climate civilian corps to free up an army of young people to work on public lands and restoration projects.
“The climate crisis is here, and the cost of inaction is already huge,” said Energy and Commerce President Frank Pallone, DN.J. The United States experienced 22 climate and weather disasters in 2020 with losses exceeding $ 1 billion each. Hurricane Ida and other recent disasters are expected to cost tens of billions more.
A slimmer $ 1,000 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that the House is expected to consider on Thursday addresses some of these priorities, with money for climate resilience, water system modernization and water supply. other provisions.
But Progressive Democrats say a much more comprehensive approach is needed if the United States is to have any chance of meeting Biden’s target of halving the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, leaving both packages behind. stalled as talks continue behind the scenes.
“It’s about the livability of this planet,” said Huffman, a member of the progressive caucus who said Democrats “don’t want to be overwhelmed by this.”
But Manchin said he would not support a number of clean energy and climate provisions. As a powerful chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin pledged to protect jobs in his coal and gas-producing state and said the Democratic bill was priced too high. .
Manchin and Sinema are not the only ones raising objections. Seven House Democrats from Texas said the Democratic plan’s provisions could cost thousands of energy jobs and increase energy costs for Americans.
“These taxes and fees, as well as the exclusion of natural gas production from clean energy initiatives, are punitive practices,” Texas lawmakers said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The letter was signed by Representatives Henry Cuellar, Vicente Gonzalez, Lizzie Fletcher, Sylvia Garcia, Marc Veasey, Filemon Vela and Colin Allred.
Overall, the Biden package aims to provide more than $ 600 billion to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, funded largely by taxes on corporations, the wealthy and others. other fees, respecting Biden’s commitment not to raise taxes for anyone earning less than $ 400,000 per year.
An alternative to increase income would be to impose a carbon tax. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Monday he was drafting legislation “that would make polluters pay the costs of the climate crisis.”
But Wyden and others are aware of Biden’s pledge not to touch Americans’ wallets and the senator said the carbon tax is being worked out as part of a menu of options to consider.
Environmental groups hailed the overall package, calling it a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
“Investing in new clean energy technologies is one of the best things we can do to create good jobs for ordinary people right now while reaping long term benefits and a healthier planet for decades to come. come, ”said Matthew Davis of the League of Conservation Voters. .
The clean energy standard alone could create millions of jobs, while driving the U.S. electricity industry toward zero carbon emissions, Davis and other advocates said.
As the election draws near, approval of the bill is crucial, Democrats say.
“If we miss this moment,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, referring to democratic control of Congress and the White House, “it’s not clear when we’ll get a second chance.”
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this story.
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