House Democrats call on Biden to renew climate push

Dozens of House Democrats in a letter released Monday are calling on President Biden to restart negotiations on the climate portions of the Build Back Better legislation.

The letter, signed by 89 Democrats including six committee chairs, unites both centrists and progressives and seeks to breathe new life into the stalled provisions at the center of Biden’s clean energy agenda.

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), who represents the western suburbs of Chicago, said Democrats should take advantage of having a “science-affirming” majority in Congress, a “clean energy leader in the White House” and a “mandate from the American people to deliver on climate,” adding there is a “window for action and a moral obligation not to let it pass us by.”

“Every day we fail to reach an agreement on the baseline climate investments passed by the House is a day American families and businesses pay the price at the pumps and oil-rich oligarchs profit. Restarting negotiations with climate action is the clearest if not the only path forward to deliver tangible results to the American people,” he said.

With Democrats divided over broader elements of the Build Back Better legislation, such as funding for social programs — a sticking point for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — the letter calls for pressing ahead on the bill’s climate provisions. 

It labels the bill’s $555 billion in funding for climate resilience and clean energy ”a key starting point where common ground can be pursued.”

Democrats will need every vote from within their party to get any such legislation through the evenly split Senate, and after helping stall Build Back Better in December, Manchin has said that he is open to a climate deal.

“If you do that, the revenue producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate,” Manchin told Politico in early March.

“And the social issues, we basically have to deal with those” afterward, he added.

Democrats want to use a process called budget reconciliation, which would allow them to pass a spending package with just a simple majority in the Senate, rather than the 60 votes needed to get around a filibuster.

However, attempting to pass only the climate provisions of Build Back Better could risk torpedoing Democrats’ other social spending initiatives.

With united Republican opposition and no prospect for ending the filibuster in the Senate, the 89 House Democrats — whose chamber passed the entire Build Back Better package in late 2021 — suggest it’s worth pushing ahead on the climate provisions.

“In just the past four years, record setting wildfires, superstorms, and heat waves have already cost our country tens of billions of dollars more in damages,” the letter reads. “Damages have also included the loss of homes and the displacement of families across the country—the effects of which disproportionately impact communities of color. It is clear that climate change is a threat multiplier to our economy.”

The representatives call on the president to make “the largest climate investment in our nation’s history” in a package that aims to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by around 50 percent by 2030, while building out the U.S. clean energy industry and reducing energy costs. Time, the letter emphasizes, is of the essence.

“Responding now will protect American families and businesses against the most devastating financial impacts. But the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to transition at the speed required, and we will have incurred billions in damages and harm to our communities, infrastructure, environment, and public health and safety along the way.”

In their statements, two leading representatives linked the issues of climate investment and child welfare. 

“When I think about inaction on climate change, it makes me think of all the opportunities my six-year-old son, Carter, won’t have,” said Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), who represents most of Atlanta in the district represented until July 2020 by the late Rep. John Lewis (D). “We’re starting to see the impacts of climate change already, so we have to act fast to tackle the climate crisis while we still can.”

“To Build a Better America, President Biden must start reconciliation negotiations with climate action as a goal,” Williams added. “We can’t afford to have our children and grandchildren foot the bill for something we can address now.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who represents the area north of New York City, an area devastated over the past decade by a succession of large storms grown extra powerful due to the rising heat from climate change, said, “We cannot wait another day to protect our children and communities from disasters like Hurricane Ida, which devastated my district.”

Bowman pointed to the latest United Nations climate change report, released at the end of February, which found that the “extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments,” with heat fueling weather disasters, emerging diseases and the widespread extinction of species.

Some of these impacts may be irreversible and all have the possibility to get worse, experts say — pushing societies up against the “hard limits” imposed by climate change and undermining their capacities to adapt even as the crises they must adapt to get ever more frequent and destructive.

“Climate change will rapidly outpace our ability to adapt if we fail to shift away from oil and gas as soon as possible,” Bowman said. “And in the midst of escalating wars caused by fossil fueled authoritarianism, it is clearer than ever that we need historic investments in clean energy now.”

Tags Build Back Better Climate change Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Lewis Sean Casten

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