America needs investment in clean energy, not a debt ceiling fight from Kevin McCarthy

Federal investment has a chance to transform our economy and help save the planet. Politicians like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy want to threaten a debt ceiling fight to slow us down on fighting climate change.

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Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is interviewed on a CNBC show at the New York Stock Exchange on April 17. McCarthy is trying to tie support for raising the debt ceiling to give-aways to polluters, Ben Jealous writes.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is interviewed on a CNBC show at the New York Stock Exchange on April 17. McCarthy is trying to tie support for raising the debt ceiling to give-aways to polluters, Ben Jealous writes.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty

The theme for the 53rd Earth Day last Saturday was a timely one: Invest in Our Planet. This country has just begun to do that through the infrastructure and clean energy packages that President Joe Biden and Congress approved in 2021 and 2022.

More money than we spent getting astronauts to the moon will be spent in the next decade transforming our economy. We’re moving from an economy that destroys places and people with pollution and climate threats to one that can lift them up everywhere. We have the technology and the demand, and now the federal investment, to power your house for less, to power your car for less and to create good jobs that will last because they aren’t killing the planet.

But we saw how misguided the opposition is to this commitment to a healthier, safer world powered by abundant energy sources when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave a speech at the New York Stock Exchange. That’s Ground Zero for private sector investing in this country, if not the world.

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He made clear that he and his colleagues don’t want to begin a renewal of the American economy through cleaner jobs. They want instead to make things easier for the fossil fuel companies that raked in a record $200 billion in profits in 2022.

McCarthy, in fact, said he’s willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to extend our reliance on the dirtiest and most volatile energy sources and push even more money into the pockets of Big Oil and Gas. He told those investors and financiers in New York that he would tie support for raising the federal debt ceiling — how much we can borrow to pay what we already owe — to a grab-bag of giveaways to corporate polluters in their energy package.

He’s taking us hostage in this way because he knows that an energy bill will never become law if it undermines long-standing environmental laws that give the public a say in new projects and permits, if it cuts a new program to slow climate change by reducing methane emissions, and if it eliminates help to disadvantaged communities to get the low- and zero-emission technology they want. His bill does all that damage and more.

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He said he was looking forward, when what he described will actually lock us in a gas-powered economy that we can’t afford. The idea that oil and gas companies need more help can’t stand up to the facts that they’ve made more than ever, and they already have the right to drill in thousands of places that they haven’t used.

Beyond decimating environmental safeguards, the plan harms those at the bottom end of the economy with cuts to preschool access, nutrition programs for women and children, and medical care for veterans.

McCarthy and his colleagues try to put a folksy spin on their backward ideas by saying our families must stick to a budget and can’t spend more than they earn, so why should the federal government? Raising the debt ceiling isn’t about new spending, it’s about paying for what we’ve already spent.

A better analogy for what they want to do to the once-in-a-lifetime investment that we’ve agreed to make, and so clearly need, is this: Imagine wanting to get healthy and buying expensive running shoes and a gym membership, then stopping for pizza on the way home from every workout. That’s what would happen if the handouts to dirty corporations ever came to pass.

We’ve given ourselves the chance to transform our economy in ways that will help save the planet. Now we must stand firm against self-interested polluters and politicians who want to threaten us into slowing down.

Ben Jealous is executive director of the Sierra Club.

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