US climate pledge faces Senate test with global impact
Washington After talking about climate at UN negotiations in Scotland, the Biden administration is now testing whether a divided United States can go the climate track: pushing a massive investment into a new era of clean energy through the narrowest margins in the Senate.
The House of Representatives passed a nearly $2 trillion social and climate policy bill Friday, including $555 billion for clean energy, although the legislation is almost certain to change the Senate. What ultimately appears in the climate portion of the bill will have a lasting impact on America and all of its neighbors on Earth, and help determine whether the United States lives up to its promised share of keeping climate damage at a level no catastrophically worse than it is now.
“The problem is that when you have these storms that come in with such a frequency, once you deal with one storm, you deal with the next,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has experienced five federally declared disasters. In the six years he spent leading the global oil hub on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Turner spoke on the sidelines of the United Nations conference in Glasgow, where he was one of dozens of mayors pushing for climate investment. After years of storm deaths in severe floods and hurricanes from the tropics, Houstonians froze to death in record numbers in a wobbling polar vortex this year.
“And so for our vulnerable communities…where people are already on the sidelines, they continue to deteriorate a little bit,” Turner said.
In the Senate, cost-cutting demands by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia for coal and the Chamber’s strict rules appear to force major changes to the bill. That would spark new rifts between centrists and moderates in the party that are likely to take weeks to resolve.
If the Biden package is passed, its effect in promoting clean energy sources and technologies will mean that the United States will likely miss, by 5%, Biden’s goal of halving fossil fuel emissions by the end of this decade — more accurately and inconveniently, of Reduce the amount of carbon dioxide the United States is pumping out by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
That’s according to modeling by researchers at Princeton University and elsewhere, as explained by climate scientist and energy analyst Zeke Hausfeather.
But if Biden’s bill fails in Congress, the United States will likely shy away from its promise to cut emissions much larger, by 20%, academic modeling shows.
Market forces that are making renewable energy ever cheaper will help the United States carry much of the way regardless, Housefeather said.
But with such a salvaged promise behind it, it will be difficult for the United States to “convince countries like China and India to live up to their climate commitments…if we can’t deliver on our promises,” noted Housefeather, director of the Breakthrough Institute think tank.
Over time, the United States is the world’s largest exporter of coal, natural gas, and oil vapors that change the atmosphere and warm the Earth. China, with its reliance on coal-fired power plants, is the largest emitter at present, and the United States No. 2. India, with its growing population and dependence on coal, is poised to surpass both in the coming decades.
In Glasgow, Bangladesh climate negotiator Kawamrul Chowdhury has fought, as he has for years, for the United States and other big polluters to make the big and quick cuts needed to keep his and other low-lying countries above the water’s surface.
After decades of fluctuating US climate politics with the political parties of incoming administrations, Choudary was eager for Congress to strike the deal.
“In your local legislation, if it is enshrined, it will help,” Chaudhry said. At climate conferences, “Leaders make promises, make commitments, but they are not kept. Promises are made, and they will not be broken.”
The most severe climate swing for the United States has been by the Trump administration. It has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, slowed offshore wind projects, and boosted oil and gas exploration and drilling. She canceled the Obama administration’s projects that were intended to promote clean energy and discourage coal.
Dozens of Republican lawmakers in Congress are now stepping up to demand a compromise on climate, between Trump and Biden, whose waning popularity is raising doubts about the continued Democratic power in Washington.
At a conservative rally founded by Republican Representative John Curtis of Utah, Republicans say they know how to keep voters away from fossil fuels and advocate for climate policy that continues to use natural gas in particular.
It emphasizes trees, as well as a carbon capture technology not yet developed to scale, to capture climate-damaging emissions.
We know we must reduce emissions. Now let’s have a thoughtful conversation about how to go about it, Curtis said at a session with other US lawmakers in Glasgow. “And this, I think, is a new place for us.”
Depending on whether the incoming Republican administration, like Trump’s, actively opposes efforts to cut fossil fuel use, another US rollback on climate efforts could set the nation back a few percentage points when Biden’s goal of cutting emissions is met, Featherhouse said.
“I think the biggest impact…would be a lack of global leadership on this issue, creating the impression (completely justified) that US commitments cannot be trusted,” he said in an email.
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