Washington Weekly: July 21, 2021

Washington Weekly: July 21, 2021

The Past Week in D.C.

Today, Senator Schumer called a test vote to move forward on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan. As expected, Senate Republicans blocked the effort, arguing that they could not advance a plan that was still being negotiated. While the vote was a setback for President Biden’s agenda, members of both parties expect negotiations to intensify in the coming days, with hopes of advancing the plan next week.

Yesterday, President Biden issued a memo to the heads of federal departments and agencies providing guidance on implementation of his Justice 40 initiative, a plan to distribute 40% of the benefits of key federal climate investments to disadvantaged communities, per Executive Order 14008 that he signed in January. This newsletter will provide closer analysis of the Justice 40 initiative in the coming weeks.

On Monday, Senate Democrats introduced a plan to raise $16 billion annually through a border tax based on the countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. The plan calls for taxes on imports from China and other countries who are not significantly reducing their carbon footprint, and is expected to be attached to the $3.5 billion budget package Democrats hope to pass through reconciliation.

Following the hottest June on record (since the federal government started tracking temperature in the 1890s), the western U.S. is in the midst of it’s fourth major heat wave in the past two months, shattering records in many places and spreading record numbers of wildfires.

Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?

As Congress struggles to make progress on a bipartisan infrastructure deal at a frustratingly slow pace, examples of the need for urgent federal infrastructure and climate action continue to increase seemingly every day all across the globe.

Last week, historic flooding in Germany due to water levels unseen in centuries led to near complete destruction of some towns and villages, and hundreds of deaths. China is currently experiencing similarly unprecedented flooding. This week, Britain issued its first ever extreme heat warning.

In the American west, temperatures continue to hit record highs, putting lives at risk and fueling wildfires that may threaten the water supply for years and decades after the fires burn out.

On Friday, Detroit experienced a second round of mass flooding just three weeks after historic rainfall caused the destruction of homes and businesses, and shut down major freeways — prompting President Biden to grant federal disaster relief funding.

Rapid analysis of these extreme weather events found that the odds of them occurring without climate change would be virtually impossible.

Unlike the United States, the European Union has put a plan in place to fight back. Last week, European countries outlined a sweeping package that would move the Continent completely away from fossil fuels in the coming years. Among other policies, the proposal would eliminate the sale of new gas and diesel fueled cars in 14 years, increase the price of using fossil fuels, and impose a carbon tariff on imports from countries not making aggressive moves to limit carbon emissions.

Here in the States, without congressional action to deal with the ever-increasing dangers of climate change, and the infrastructure needed to handle climate mitigation, state and local governments are forced to piece together climate policies to protect their residents. In Michigan, both our state government and various cities have moved to address this crisis.

Last year, Governor Whitmer signed an executive order launching her MI Healthy Climate Plan, which, among other things, outlined a statewide goal for Michigan to be fully carbon neutral by 2050. In June, the State Senate introduced a sweeping $2.5 billion water infrastructure bill that includes funding for top water and climate priorities.

The city of Ann Arbor provides a good example of local progress, where Mayor Christopher Taylor recently proposed a climate change tax in the form of a 1-mill property tax increase that would raise between $130 and $150 million over the life of the mileage, going towards programs and services to respond to climate change. If passed as a ballot measure in the November election, Ann Arbor would become the first city in Michigan (and one of the first in the country) to impose such a tax. Ann Arbor has already passed one of the most ambitious municipal climate plans in North America, with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

While state and local action is indeed helpful, step-by-step progress in progressive strongholds like Ann Arbor, and by pro-environmental governors like Gretchen Whitmer, will only take us so far. If we are to truly stand up to this unprecedented challenge, strong federal action is urgently needed. Unfortunately, at the moment, the question of how to force the political system to do enough, fast enough to avoid mass global suffering seems like an unknowable question.

A Deeper Dive

If you’ve happened to catch the sunrise or sunset in Michigan over the past couple of days, you may have noticed that it’s looked different than usual. Amazingly, the reason for its current hue is a result of smoke from wildfires in Oregon, Washington, and western Canada traveling all the way across the country, settling over the Great Lakes. This map shows how. You can also track the record breaking number of western wildfires — more than 80 currently in the U.S., with many more in Canada — using this interactive map.

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