WASHINGTON — As the country recovers from the cascade of death and devastation wrought this summer by this summer’s record floods, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, President Biden and progressive Democrats are using the moment to push for aggressive climate changes with a huge budget bill of $3.5 trillion.
Speaking Thursday in Queens, where nearly a dozen people died in flash floods the day before, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said that when the Senate returned to Washington on Tuesday to continue working on budget legislation, it would include provisions to reduce fossil fuel emissions caused by extreme weather events.
Congress is also considering a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that would include money to help communities prepare for climate disasters. The Senate approved the bill last month and the House is expected to vote on it in late September.
That legislation includes $47 billion over five years in funding to improve the country’s flood defenses, mitigate damage from wildfires, develop new sources of drinking water in areas ravaged by drought, and move some communities away from high-risk areas. It also includes $27 billion in spending to help harden power grids against extreme weather events that cause more frequent power outages.
Mr Schumer said the infrastructure and budget bills were paramount to preparing communities for more powerful storms, fires, droughts and floods and to stop the pollution that would further warm the planet and lead to even more extreme weather.
“Global warming is imminent, and it will get worse and worse and worse unless we do something about it, which is why it is so necessary to pass the two bills, the infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation bill,” he said. .
Of the two pieces of legislation, the budget law faces the most dangerous path. Republicans are unanimously against it because it also includes a range of social spending, such as universal childcare funds. Some Democrats are also unhappy with the $3.5 trillion price tag and want to scale it back, though a few who initially objected to the cost now say they can make an exception when it comes to climate change.
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 with wind, solar and nuclear power plants within the next decade. It would be the United States’ strongest policy to fight climate change.
President Biden and progressive Democrats say the summer disasters that have rocked the country, from deadly floods in New York to severe drought in the Midwest to raging wildfires in California, will give them leverage during budget bill negotiations. Progressive Democrats also hope to use the budget law to make polluters pay for those clean energy programs — for example, imposing tariffs on imported goods from countries that don’t regulate greenhouse gas pollution, and fees on emissions of methane, a planet-warming gas that leaks. from oil and gas wells.
It is far from certain whether those provisions will meet the budget details. Since no Republican is expected to vote for the final package, Democrats will need every vote in their wafer-thin majority of the House and Senate to push it through.
But this week, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III, called on Congress to “take a strategic pause” on the bill. In an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote, “I’ve always said that if I can’t explain it, I can’t vote for it, and I can’t explain why my Democratic colleagues are rushing to spend $3.5 trillion. to give.” .”
A spokeswoman for Mr Manchin did not return an email asking for comment.
Mr Manchin, whose coal-rich state could be harmed by climate legislation designed to phase out fossil fuels, has been non-committal about the program to replace coal and gas-fired power plants with zero-emission energy sources. If he or another Democrat from a coal, oil or gas state opposes the provision, it can be dropped from the final draft.
New York Floods
But Minnesota Democrat Senator Tina Smith, the lead author of the power plant supply, said she believed the extreme weather that has so recently scorched, flooded and destroyed so many regions of the country would make it harder for any Democrat over the next two weeks to justify its deletion.
“For the past few days, this part of the state has experienced one of the most extreme droughts we’ve seen in a generation,” said Ms. Smith, speaking by phone from Minnesota. “I spoke to pastoralists yesterday, they are liquidating their herds much sooner than they would have done. They don’t have the fodder and fodder to keep their herds together. And I can’t believe I’m the only senator hearing this while I’m home, when you think about the reach of extreme weather across the country. And I think that dynamic determines the negotiations.”
Meanwhile, two representatives, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Henry Cuellar of Texas, both moderate Democrats, explained in a letter to California Chairman Nancy Pelosi “overarching principles” they wanted to see as lawmakers write the details of the budget bill. Both members were among the group of moderate and conservative Democrats who initially balked at passing the initial $3.5 trillion budget before Ms. Pelosi made a series of pledges, including assurances that the measure would be fully funded and contain no provisions that could not be made clear. the Senate.
But in the letter, first reported by Politico and later obtained by NewsMadura, the two Democrats said they were willing to make a possible exception for spending to tackle climate change because unbiased cost estimates “do not sufficiently take into account the future costs associated with being passive about the climate crisis.”
While efforts to reduce emissions remain controversial, there is a broader consensus on the need to prepare communities for the effects of extreme weather. Few corners of the country have been unscathed this summer from the series of disasters: flooding rivers in Tennessee, a hurricane in Louisiana, a deadly heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and flooding in New York City.
The infrastructure bill passed by the Senate would signal a major shift in the federal government’s handling of extreme weather events. Rather than simply paying to rebuild communities after disasters, the bill would provide the largest single infusion of federal money ever to pre-prepare states and cities for future climate impacts.
For example, the Department of Transportation would get $8.7 billion to help states address future climate risks to their roads and transit systems. Much of the country’s infrastructure is designed to handle 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 massive amounts of water into stations and tunnels.
Many of those provisions have won the support of Republicans, including those who have rejected the threat of climate change in the past. In an interview with CNBC this week, Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, urged his party to support 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 wherever they are, we need to start preparing now,” said Mr Cassidy. “I really hope Republicans look around my state, see this damage and say, ‘If there’s money for resilience, money to harden the grid, money to help sewage and water, then maybe this is something we should be up for. .’ ”
But while climate experts praised many of the resilience measures in the bill, they warned it most likely wouldn’t be enough, as the nation’s needs are sure to increase as climate change fuels increasingly severe storms, floods, wildfires and droughts. In 2018, the federal government’s National Climate Assessment estimated that climate change adaptation could ultimately cost “tens to hundreds of billions of dollars a year.”
“If we really want to get ahead of the ever-increasing climate impacts, it’s not enough to create a one-time resilience bill every five years,” said Rob Moore, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We need to start weaving resilience measures into every dollar that governments spend on infrastructure.”
For now, there seems to be little incentive in Congress to expand the infrastructure bill’s adjustment provisions, although some lawmakers have pushed for additional measures in the budget bill. For example, some progressive Democrats have pushed for the creation of the Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after a New Deal program, which would hire young Americans to work on various climate resilience projects.
But even if adaptation measures receive broad bipartisan support, some experts warn they could soon reach their limits unless countries like the United States quickly cut their greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of global warming.
“We’re not even ready for the disasters that lie ahead,” said Rachel Cleetus, director of climate policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And we just can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future unless we can get our emissions and climate change under control.”
Emily Cochrane reporting contributed.