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Earth to Washington: Enact strong climate change legislation

Taken together, climate proposals in Congress could lead to the biggest emissions reductions in the nation’s history.

European Union leaders conclude on Friday a two-day summit in Brussels in which they discussed pressing issues including climate change.
European Union leaders conclude on Friday a two-day summit in Brussels in which they discussed pressing issues including climate change.
AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, pool

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he wants $500 billion to fight climate change. Democrats should hold their ground to make sure it happens.

It appears the original linchpin of Biden’s plan to tackle climate change — the Clean Electricity Performance Program — will not make it into the final version of his $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation. That’s discouraging because the CEPP, which would have provided about $150 billion to get utilities to switch from fossil fuel emissions to renewable energy, would have been an effective way to help avoid the worst effects of climate change. A “polluter pays” carbon fee that would have brought in $50 billion that could be spent on clean energy projects also appears to be on the cutting room floor.

But other important things are still on the table.

Among the numerous measures are tax credits to developers for installing solar and wind energy, for creating new technology and for making electric vehicles more affordable for working families. Also still on the table are rebates for highly efficient home appliances and directing resources to historically disadvantaged communities.

Even as things change by the hour during negotiations, we hope funding remains for the Civilian Climate Corps, which would benefit people and the land by hiring diverse Americans, introducing them to careers in green industry and addressing deferred maintenance of parks and national areas and creating new resources where they are most needed. For example, this program could help reforestation in Chicago, where the tree canopy has declined dramatically.

If Congress couples Biden’s $500 billion to forestall climate catastrophe in Biden’s Build Back Better legislation with other initiatives, that could bring the country close to the president’s goal of cutting carbon pollution from 2005 levels by 50-52% by 2030. Now, only 20% of America’s energy comes from renewable sources.

Biden can implement some green policies through executive orders, although that can involve time-consuming rulemaking and can be undone by a future president. Also, the federal government can further climate goals through its role as a consumer, by buying electric vehicles for the Postal Service, for example.

Hitting Biden’s climate targets probably won’t happen as fast as if the CEPP got onto the books, but the other measures would still represent an important step forward. Even without CEPP, the Democrats’ proposed legislation is the single biggest way the United States is going to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide getting into the environment.

Taken together, the climate proposals could lead to the biggest emissions reductions in the nation’s history.

That’s why Josh Mogerman, national media director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says there are many paths toward reaching Biden’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

“We will see what happens when the dust settles, but there is still a lot to love about what’s in there,” Mogerman said.

Last week, more than 100 doctors and health experts wrote in the Lancet medical journal that climate change is “the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century.” Also last week, U.S. intelligence and defense agencies warned climate change will increase conflict between countries and lead to more immigration.

Climate change is upon us. Storms are stronger. Droughts are worse. Species are becoming extinct. Flooding threatens broader areas. Sea levels are rising.

Biden needs all 50 Democrats in the Senate to support his clean energy initiatives through the reconciliation process. They should rally to his side.

America can hardly be a global leader on saving the Earth if it can’t pass important climate legislation. It’s too late for small, incremental steps.

Get it done, Democrats.

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