Energy & Environment

Democrats seize on ‘alarm bell’ climate report in spending plan push

Traffic is seen due to the I-66 widening project near Fairfax, Va., on June 2
Greg Nash

Environmentalists and their allies on Capitol Hill are seizing on a new United Nations (U.N.) report on greenhouse gas emissions to argue that the $3.5 trillion spending plan from Democrats unveiled Monday is vital to help combat climate change.

The report, published by a key U.N. panel earlier Monday, issued dire warnings about rising temperatures while noting that reducing global emissions will have a significant impact on long-term warming.

Democratic leaders quickly highlighted those predictions in their push for a multitrillion-dollar budget reconciliation plan they’re hoping to pass later this year, almost certainly without any GOP votes.

“Without immediate and bold action, we are staring down ever-worsening floods and heat waves, droughts, and sea level rise,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech on Monday.

“The future of our planet looks bleak until we do something, right now. And the budget reconciliation bill will do more to combat climate change than any legislation ever — ever — in the history of the Senate. That is a promise,” he said.

Democrats on Monday released a memo just hours after the U.N. report detailing policies they’re planning to include in their $3.5 trillion spending package, including numerous provisions designed to mitigate climate change.

Among the environment-focused proposals is a “clean electricity payment program.” The office of Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who has been a key proponent of the switch to clean electricity, told The Hill that the program would offer incentives and might also dole out penalties in an effort to get electric providers to switch to clean power sources.

Other components would provide tax breaks for clean energy, manufacturing and transportation, while some would slap pollution fees on imports and methane. Additionally, Democrats seek to create a Civilian Climate Corps jobs program.

House Select Climate Crisis Committee Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said the power sector piece is particularly important, calling it the “linchpin” for tackling climate change.

“That is job number one because then you get to the transportation sector. I’m pretty confident that we can build the clean cars and trucks … but we’ve got to give them the tools to do it,” she told The Hill in an interview Monday.

Proponents of the overall spending plan argue the climate report adds new urgency to passing the environmental measures — all of which are aimed at reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Patrick Drupp, associate director for legislative and administrative advocacy on climate and clean air at the Sierra Club, described the spending package as a “big deal.”

“This budget would do a huge, huge amount of work on putting us on the path to where we need to be 10 years from now,” Drupp said, adding that the U.N. report “serves as another reminder that the clock is ticking and we have to act now.”

It’s not clear how much money would be devoted to each of the measures in the budget blueprint since the memo from Democratic leaders details only how much funding each Senate committee can divvy up.

The memo’s climate provisions are spread out between the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Senate Environment and Public Works committees — which were allocated $198 billion and $67 billion, respectively — and others such as the Senate Finance Committee.

The climate report, compiled by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also warned about sea level rise, heat waves, and frequent and intense precipitation and droughts.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called it an “alarm bell to the world” in a Monday floor speech, pointing to the spending package as a key legislative weapon to fight back.

“What do we say to our kids about this? … How do we reassure our kids that the planet they inherit is still going to be liveable?” said Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

“I ask myself, and all of us, what are we doing to make sure that my grandkids and all of America’s kids will be OK? We’re going to have a chance to answer that question this week as the Senate begins debate on a proposal that will define the world my grandkids and everyone’s kids will grow up in,” he added.

But not all congressional Democrats are praising the reconciliation package’s spending allotments.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told The Hill there should be more funding for the Interior Department while noting that the climate report “adds to the urgency” for Congress to act.

“For Interior, it’s not the investment amount that’s needed. It needed to be higher,” said Grijalva, former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “The ocean is a mitigator on climate change, public lands now contribute…in a negative way.”

Senate Democrats in particular will need to ensure they keep their caucus together on passing the budget reconciliation package, and that means being mindful of moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) who have been critical of some climate proposals from progressives. Democrats will need all 50 members of their Senate caucus to pass the measure since it’s not expected to receive any Republican support.

For Castor, the success of the reconciliation bill will be determined by details that haven’t been fully fleshed out yet — including how well it responds to the U.N. report.

“The details are really going to matter and we’re going to have to go to scientists and experts to say…‘We know it’s moving us in the right direction, but does it do enough to answer the warnings?’”

Tags Charles Schumer Climate change Dick Durbin Joe Manchin Kathy Castor Tina Smith UN climate report
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