Congress must enact strong climate legislation — now

The Earth is in what scientists say is the last decade in which there is an opportunity to ward off the worst effects of rising temperatures. Averting climate disaster should be a bipartisan issue.

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A kayaker paddles in August in Lake Oroville as water levels remain low due to continuing drought conditions in Oroville, Calif. According to three different reports released on Jan. 10, the United States staggered through a steady onslaught of deadly billion-dollar climate disasters in an extra hot 2021, while the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions last year jumped 6% because of surges in coal and long-haul trucking, putting America further behind its 2030 climate change cutting goal.

Ethan Swope/AP

At his press conference last Wednesday, President Joe Biden asked: “What are Republicans for? Name me one thing they’re for.”

Let’s hope the answer is not, as suggested by a poll of all 50 Senate Republicans, that they are for torching the planet. In the poll by the New York Times, not a single Republican indicated support for the climate measures in the stalled Build Back Better legislation if those measures are run as a separate bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said they might support some of the provisions.

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If Congress is going to play its essential role in saving the planet, Republicans must change their minds — and quit acting like vassals of the fossil fuel industry.

Some Democratic strategists hope to get the climate measures through the Senate via the process of reconciliation, which would require no Republican votes if every Democrat supports the legislation. But every member of Congress — not just Democrats — should be supporting ways to avert the worst effects of climate change. Averting climate disaster ought to be a bipartisan issue.

The climate measures in Build Back Better would set aside $555 billion for renewable energy and clean transportation incentives over a decade. They would provide incentives for transitioning from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy; tax credits for renewable and nuclear power; money to make buildings more energy efficient; and funding for research into ways to remove carbon dioxide that has already escaped into the atmosphere.

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Seen in a long camera exposure, the Caldor Fire burns in August in Eldorado National Forest, California.

Noah Berger/AP

The climate change provisions need to become law if the nation hopes to meet Biden’s modest goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by about 50% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. As it is, the nation is going in the wrong direction. America’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 6% last year.

No time to start over

We all know time is running out to keep the planet from overheating because of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Stronger storms, bigger wildfires, droughts and heat waves already are constantly in the news.

Yet too many people refuse to do anything. On Friday, USA Today reported that the fire-hose of lies about climate change on social media is as bad as ever, despite pledges from social media companies to crack down. The proliferation of lies makes it harder for timid politicians to act.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has indicated support for the climate legislation but also an interest in rewriting it from scratch. There isn’t time for that. The midterm elections are in November, and Congress has to put together a budget. Congress also is making a priority of acting on judicial nominations to the federal bench. All of that takes time. Moreover, starting over could lead to weakening of important parts of the legislation.

“The environmental provisions should remain intact and not come with rollbacks in some of the climate safeguards we need to restore that the Trump administration rolled back,” Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, told us.

The world has missed the opportunity to head off climate change altogether. Now the Earth is in what scientists say is the last decade in which there is an opportunity to ward off the worst effects of rising temperatures.

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Some states are trying to pick up some of the slack. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee is asking lawmakers to appropriate $626 million in 2022 to address climate change. California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend $22 billion over five years on electric vehicles and charging stations, along with other environmental initiatives. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s climate plan includes $500 billion for offshore wind energy generation and a ban on gas hookups in new buildings.

Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in September, made Illinois the first Midwest state to commit to net-zero carbon emissions, with a deadline of 2050. It includes a host of environmental measures that are a model for the nation.

But state-level efforts are not enough. The United States can’t do its part to save the planet without strong federal laws. Congress must enact climate measures quickly.

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