US Congress Advances Key Climate Legislation

Environmental groups want legislation to promote electric vehicles and clean energy.

US Capitol

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The U.S. Congress has forged ahead with two multi-trillion-dollar pieces of legislation that could allow the country to slash greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

Earlier this week, the Democratic leadership in the House was able to push through with a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint despite opposition from nine moderate Democratic lawmakers who had threatened to boycott the legislation. According to an analysis by Friends of the Earth, these representatives have collectively received $2.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil.

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi convinced the dissenting lawmakers to vote in favor, the budget was passed in a 220-212 vote, with all Republicans opposing the measure and all Democrats voting in favor. 

The approval of the budget blueprint kickstarts a process known as reconciliation that should allow Democratic lawmakers to allocate funds for some key aspects of Biden’s social agenda, including universal preschool, paid family leave, and an expansion of Medicare and the Child Tax Credit.

The budget is also set to include funding and policies to tackle climate change. House Democrats want to include electric vehicle incentives, clean energy tax breaks, legislation to bar fossil fuel companies from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, higher royalty rates for companies extracting fossil fuels offshore, and funding for the Civilian Climate Corps.

But most importantly, they also plan to include a version of a clean energy standard, a policy that will provide economic incentives to utilities that fund new clean electricity projects or retire facilities that generate power by burning fossil fuels. If utilities fail to comply with certain clean energy targets they will have to pay a penalty.

This policy, “when combined with the other incentives proposed by the President, should get the U.S. to 80% clean electricity by 2030,” said Lindsey Walter, Deputy Director, Climate and Energy Program at Third Way.

If Democrats can successfully introduce these provisions and the bill is approved in a vote expected to take place in late September—which will be challenging, given bitter infighting and the fact that Democrats have a razor-thin majority in both chambers of Congress—the legislation will put the U.S. on track to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

“We will take on the existential threat of climate change by transforming our energy systems toward renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said in a statement. “Through a Civilian Climate Corps, we will give hundreds of thousands of young people good-paying jobs and educational benefits as they help us combat climate change.”

Infrastructure Bill

All those policies would come on top of the funds that the $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill will allocate to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

The bipartisan bill, which was approved by the Senate earlier this month and will be put to a House vote on September 27, includes provisions that support investments in renewable energy, energy storage projects, and power grid upgrades. The bill includes funding to turn former mining sites into solar farms and $11.3 billion to clean up toxic waste from thousands of abandoned coal mines across the country. 

“On its own, the sprawling 2,702-page bill represents the largest investment in climate resilience in U.S. history. It includes $11.6 billion for flood-control projects, another $500 million to predict flooding and wildfires, and money to move highways and drinking water infrastructure at risk from extreme weather. It would also allocate $216 million in climate adaptation funding to tribal nations,” the magazine of the Sierra Club reported.

But even though the World Resources Institute has described the infrastructure bill as “the most significant legislation to tackle climate change in United States history,” it still falls short of what President Biden aimed for.

“Biden wanted $100 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid. He got $73 billion. He wanted $15 billion to construct a network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. He got $7.5 billion. He wanted $378 billion to upgrade buildings to be more sustainable. He got a little over $5 billion,” the Sierra Club said.

That’s why progressive Democrats and environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, are calling on Congress to approve the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint.

In a statement, Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, noted that the infrastructure package contains policies that will help the U.S. tackle the climate crisis, but described it as “just a first step.”

“We look forward to legislative action on bold climate and clean energy provisions, including critical clean energy tax incentives, environmental justice protections, and clean electricity and transportation provisions. Congress needs to take on the big challenges we face. We can rebuild America, create jobs, and help solve the climate crisis if we’re bold. Now is the moment to be ambitious for a better future.”

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