Washington Weekly: August 11, 2021

Washington Weekly: August 11, 2021

The Past Week in D.C.

Infrastructure Bill:

  • On Tuesday, after months of negotiations, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on a 69-30 vote that included all Senate Democrats and 19 Republicans, including Minority Leader McConnell.
  • As written, the bill represents the biggest federal investment in our nation’s infrastructure in more than a decade, and the first time in years the two parties have come together to pass major legislation — a big win for President Biden, who campaigned on his ability to work with both parties.
  • The bill includes funding to repair roads, bridges, and highways, modernize the light rail system and the power grid, replace lead pipes, expand broadband internet, build electric vehicle charging stations, and more. Use this visual to see what details are included.
  • The bill now moves to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi must navigate her own party, whose nearly 100-member progressive wing has indicated that they will not pass the bill if and until the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan to vastly expand the social safety net and combat climate change is passed in the Senate.

Almost immediately following the infrastructure vote, Senate Democrats moved quickly to adopt a $3.5 trillion budget, which passed 50-49 along party lines early this morning. Written primarily by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the budget blueprint includes significant funding for health care, childcare, education, and urgently-needed climate change measures. If passed, it would amount to the largest expansion of the country’s social safety net since the Great Society in the 1960s. Hurdles remain, however, as Senate Democrats must now turn the budget plan into legislation, and some centrist members of the party remain concerned about the price tag.

“A code red for humanity,” is what U.N. Secretary General Antonio Gutteres called the incredibly alarming report released on Monday by the International Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations, outlining the irreversible damage done to the planet from human-caused climate change to date, the near certainty for more devastating outcomes over the next 20 years, and damage of potentially catastrophic proportions to follow in our lifetimes if we don’t act immediately and collectively as a human race. The report shows that the planet is warming at a significantly faster rate than most scientists had anticipated and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing more quickly than any time since the meteor that killed dinosaurs hit earth 66 million years ago. Read more about the report below in A Deeper Dive.

Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?

Even prior to this summer that has been marked by drastic climate change impact, and before Monday’s release of the sobering U.N. climate report, President Biden had set out a goal for the United States to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

Last week, he signed an executive order calling on half of all cars to be electric by 2030 as one major part of the multifaceted plan to reach that benchmark. Along with restoring and strengthening mileage standards established by President Obama, the Biden administration’s new rules would cut roughly one-third of carbon dioxide produced annually by the U.S.

The Senate is simultaneously advancing a $3.5 trillion package, which was adopted early this morning and will likely pass through reconciliation this fall, that would include funding for many administration priorities to reach the critical climate goal, including adoption of a Clean Energy Standard, formation of a Civilian Climate Corp, and massive investments in renewable energy.

As the Biden Administration tries to push through the boldest climate agenda in American history — at a time when we must urgently act — the job is being made much more difficult due to the significant science brain drain that took place over the past 4 years under Trump’s presidency.

More and more information is being released about the number of federal climate scientists who quit during the Trump administration after he, time and again, purposely undermined federal studies, fired climate scientists, and banned the release of federally funded research during his disastrous 4 years in office.

The Silencing Science Tracker, a collaboration between the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the University of Columbia Law School and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, has been tracking attempts to restrict or prohibit scientific research and attempts to publish critical scientific information since the start of 2017. It includes, incredibly, more than 200 efforts to restrict or misuse science during the Trump administration.

In addition to the former president’s undermining of scientific facts and hiding critical data from the public (and firing those who tried to release it), his administration rolled back over 100 environmental rules and regulations at a time when climate change devastation rapidly increased. A recent House Science Committee Report shows that the number of environmental protection specialists at the EPA fell by more than 24% during the Trump years, and one of the most critical climate science research labs fell by nearly 10%.

The sad reality is that the Obama administration made significant progress toward meeting today’s climate goals, including on electric vehicle production, but Trump tore apart all of that progress — leaving the Biden administration to essentially start from scratch.

Now, the pressure is on to make significant progress in the next decade before the worst, irreversible impacts take hold — many which have already begun. President Biden’s executive order to make half of all new vehicles electric by 2030 is a huge step in the right direction.

The good news is that experts believe that the president’s goal is feasible provided sufficient EV infrastructure is in place, consumers get on board, and auto companies can pivot quickly enough to mass EV production and away from gas-powered vehicles, which represent the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Of course, Detroit’s longtime moniker, the “Motor City,” remains as relevant today as it did in the 20th century — still home to the “Big 3” auto companies. With both Ford and General Motors having already made carbon neutrality pledges earlier this year — and released potentially game-changing vehicles like the electric F-150 Lightning — Michigan may well become the key state to achieve President Biden’s goals and protect our planet from the worst outcomes of climate change.


A Deeper Dive

On Monday, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth — and by far most dire — climate change assessment report, the first since 2014. The detailed report lays out in blunt terms how humans have harmed the environment at an unprecedented pace, pushing our planet in ways never seen or even anticipated at this point in human history, impacting every inhabited region on the globe. Carbon dioxide has reached a level unseen in more than 2 million years as sea levels continue to rise, “once in a century” weather occurs annually (or more) in every corner of the world, arctic ice melts rapidly, and oceans turn acidic. Perhaps most alarming, even with massive and immediate action to end fossil fuel production and other measures, our planet will inevitably look and feel significantly different in as little as 20 years, and without such action will be unrecognizable and perhaps uninhabitable by the time young kids alive today reach old age at the turn of the century.

The report concludes that the average global temperature will almost assuredly rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2040 (we have already reached 1.1 degrees), and continue to warm from there without drastic action right now. At the 1.5 degree level that we will all be experiencing in 20 years, nearly 1 billion people will be facing life-threatening heat waves every 5 years; the droughts, fires, and severe flooding we have experienced this summer will increase and be more severe, leading to surging water and food shortages; plant and animal species alive today will be gone; coral reefs will be all but eliminated; and many coastal cities like Miami, New Orleans, and others may be underwater due to rising sea levels. These changes are inevitable, the report tells us, and represent the best case scenario should we do everything right starting now.

What happens from there is up to decisions made in the very near term by the world’s most powerful and wealthy nations. If we move now to end fossil fuel dependence, rapidly increase clean energy production, end the mass cutting of forests and rainforests, and reach the goal of complete global carbon neutrality by 2050, adding no more carbon to the air after that year (which no nation is currently on pace to achieve), warming will likely level off at the 1.5 degree mark. In that “best case” scenario — one that will be difficult to meet — humans will have to adjust to the new planet we will be living on, including the unavoidable changes outlined above, but no worse destruction will occur. If we do not act now, temperatures will continue to rise and the impact could completely destroy our planet much sooner than many have previously realized. As one expert put it, “if we stay at 1.5 degrees, we’re safe, at 2 degrees or 3 degrees, it’s game over.” A sobering conclusion when considering that even the boldest policies currently being pursued by wealthy governments have us on track for an estimated 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century.

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