To protect the planet, enact green parts of Build Back Better

Already, stronger storms, flooding, rising oceans, bigger wildfires, droughts and heat waves are wreaking havoc around the world. Without reductions in greenhouse gases, it will get far worse.

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Castaic Lake reservoir in Los Angeles County.

Castaic Lake reservoir in Los Angeles County. The reservoir, part of the State Water Project, is at 52% capacity, below the historic average of 60%. A water shortage emergency has been declared in Southern California with water restrictions beginning June 1 for 6 million residents.

Mario Tama/Getty

At a time when climate change alarms are going off all over the planet, Congress should enact the environmental portions of President Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better legislation.

The full Build Back Better Act passed the House last year but is stuck in the Senate, handcuffed by opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Republicans. Yet some $555 billion worth of measures in the bill that would combat climate change appear to have broader support than the bill as a whole.

Congress should ensure those measures become law without being watered down. Now is not the time for trade-offs.

To stave off the worst effects of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month said greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025, and should be nearly halved in this decade. The world’s nations need to invest three to six times what they are spending on addressing climate change if global warming is to be held to an increase of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, the report said.

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Already, stronger storms, flooding, rising oceans, bigger wildfires, droughts, loss of food production and heat waves are wreaking havoc around the world. Without reductions in greenhouse gases, it will get far worse. In January, the IPCC said the Earth faces a “brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future.”

The most essential green elements in Build Back Better, environmentalists said, are $320 billion for clean energy tax credits and credits for electric vehicles. That would speed the transition to renewable energy and fossil-fuel-free transportation.

On Wednesday, senators discussed tax credits for clean energy and clean vehicles at a meeting convened by Manchin. But environmentalists said too much of the focus is on ideas on the margins that won’t do enough. What will move the ball, in the time we have left, are energy conservation, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, turning to renewable energy and increasing the number of electric vehicles on the roads.

Next week, members of the League of Conservation Voters and other green groups plan to go to Washington to urge Congress to get behind environmental legislation. Biden wants to trim U.S. greenhouse gases emissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030, a target that will be extremely difficult to reach without new legislation.

That target suddenly seems harder to reach as parts of the world scramble for fuel and prices rise because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. But the war illustrates the need to abandon fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Last fall, leaders of nearly 200 nations pledged in a summit in Glasgow, Scotland, to move more quickly to address climate change. They talked about halting deforestation, reducing methane emissions and other measures. Since then, there has been little sign of dramatic action.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry said he hasn’t seen evidence that big global greenhouse gas polluters are ready to commit to needed action before the next UN summit this fall in Egypt. Instead, for example, Chinese officials have outlined plans to produce more coal.

Illinois, for its part, has taken an important steps. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed in September commits the state to net-zero carbon emissions, with a deadline of 2050. But there is only so much Illinois can do. A strong federal law is needed.

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To pass green legislation, it seems likely Congress will have to act before it ends its session in August. If Democrats lose control of Congress, there might not be another opportunity for years to pass significant green legislation, maybe not till after it is too late. Some Democratic strategists hope to get climate bills through the Senate via the process of reconciliation, which would require no Republican votes if every Democrat supports the legislation. But if Manchin is not on board, Republican support will be needed.

This is the moment we need to do something big, or we will lose the battle to protect the planet.

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