We’re not a cheap date; the House is going to do what we have to do.
Jim McGovern (D-MA)
While the Senate fiddles over infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation, the House burns. Seethes is perhaps a better word. I’ll explain why in a moment. First, I’ll set the stage for that discussion.
The Senate is currently in the process of trying to hammer out two critical climate-related pieces of legislation. The first is all about jobs and updating and repairing roads, bridges, and other essential services, including getting quality internet services to all Americans.
The second is a totally partisan piece of legislation termed budget reconciliation and carries a price tag of $3.5 trillion. Although the focus of this second article in an occasional series on US climate policy is reconciliation, it is impossible to provide a picture of what’s going on without discussing the interplay between the two bills.
URGENCY is the message of today and every day until the US finally has the policies in place
and acted upon that will lead it to a sustainable environment and economy.
The US is fifteen months away from the 2022 midterm elections. If history repeats itself, as it often does, the Democrats will lose their tenuous hold of majority status in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Let’s do the math. The Democrats will go into the 2022 midterm elections with a four-seat maj-ority in the House and a sometimes one-vote majority in the Senate.
Since World War II, a president’s party has lost an average of 26 seats in the House and four in the Senate in midterm elections. Should Republicans take control of either or both chambers of Congress, it would prove a catastrophic loss of opportunity for putting the nation irrevocably on the path to a decarbonized economy.
If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.
- President Joe Biden
Saturday[i] saw both President Biden and former-President Trump making news lines. The day foreshadowed the slide into the 2022 midterm congressional elections and possibly the 2024 presidential. It’s a present that bodes badly for the president’s climate and society agendas and a future I had hoped would remain in the past.
Trump held what was billed as just the first of his revenge rallies. In the case of The Donald, one hardly needs to ask revenge for what? Trump takes any disagreement with him to be a reason for retribution. Ostensibly he was in Wellington, Ohio supporting his former staffer Max Miller in his bid to oust Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) in next year’s Republican primary.
Not one for subtlety, Trump described Miller’s opponent as a grandstanding RINO, not respected in DC, who voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional, illegal impeachment witch hunt. Gonzalez, who comes from a Cuban-American family, was first elected to Congress in 2019. He played football as an Academic All-American at Ohio State—credentials usually sufficient to guarantee a successful political career in a state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates since 2000.
The three questions Democrats are asking themselves these days are:
For readers in a hurry, the answers in order are no, possibly, and that’s a really good question.
For readers with a bit more time, allow me to elaborate.
Can the Democrats afford not to pass an infrastructure/climate bill before the end of the year?
The running joke in Capital City for the past four and a half years is that every week is infrastructure week. It’s agreed by both Republicans and Democrats that US infrastructure is in woeful condition.
The World Economic Forum ranks US infrastructure 13th overall in the world behind Singapore (1) and countries like South Korea (6), Germany (8), France (9), and the United Kingdom (11). It lists the US as 24th in the transition to renewable energy.
Some things just seem to go together--Bogey and Bacall—for example. There are other things—voting rights legislation and the future of national climate policy—not so much.
It is critical for the climate community to follow closely the federal voting rights law passed by the House and now being considered by the Senate. HR 1/S 1, the For the People Act of 2021 (Act), could prove as pivotal to the future of national climate policy as infrastructure legislation or other accommodative climate measures enacted by the 117th Congress and signed into law by President Biden.
Why voting rights?
There are two places where voting rights legislation impacts climate policy. The first place is at the state level. As reported by the Brennan Center, 14 states have already enacted 22 new laws restricting access to the vote. (See Figure 1) According to the Center, 61 bills with restrictive provisions are moving through the 18 legislatures still in session. More specifically:
…31 [bills] have passed at least one chamber, while another 30 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote). Overall, lawmakers have introduced at least 389 restrictive bills in 48 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.
Infrastructure Negotiations and the Fate of National Climate Policy—Will There Be a Chance to Make a Second Impression?
Gina, Gina, Gina…didn’t your mother ever tell you that you never get a second chance to make a first impression? Certainly, mine told me, and I’d venture most have been offered such pearls—or something like them—at one time or another.
I’m confident my mother heard the phrase in an ad for a brand of men’s suits. The first of many times she told it to me was just before a meeting with my college’s scholarship committee, when she advised I shave my beard, cut my hair, and put on a suit. But I digress.
The Gina of whom I speak is Gina McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy serves in the White House as Presi-dent Biden’s climate czar; it’ a role for which she is more than qualified, having served in the Obama administration as EPA’s administrator and during the Trump administration as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
McCarthy gave voice during a recent Politico interview to what many in the climate community have thought but rarely spoke of publicly—that President Biden would accept gutting a central climate provision of the infrastructure bill as part of a bipartisan deal.
In her own words:
While every piece like a clean electricity standard may not end [up] in the final version, we know that it is necessary, we know that the utilities want it, we are going to fight like crazy to make sure that it’s in there. And then we’re going to be open to a range of other investment strategies. (Emphasis added)
The timing of this statement was awful.
A public garden is an institution that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning.
--- American Public Gardens Association
This is a story about the critical role of public gardens and the pandemic-induced recession’s impact on them—as seen through the experiences of the Green Ark Botanical Garden Found-ation (Foundation or Ark) in Costa Rica.
First, a word or two about botanic gardens
…a man, being just as hungry as thirsty and placed between food and drink, must necessarily remain where he is and starves to death.
Aristotle, On the Heavens, (c.350 BCE)
The nation has a decision to make. Is it ready to choose between fossil fuels and cleaner alternatives like solar and wind? Or will it continue to postpone the decision until the impact of Earth’s warming becomes so severe as to make it impossible to step back from the environ-mental brink?
It’s a question whose answer cannot be hedged, as it has been for decades.
A 14th-century philosopher, Jean Buridan, is given credit for positing the paradox of free will. Buridan pilfered it from Aristotle, who offered the scenario as a belittling response to the Soph-ists’ claim that Earth was circular—but stationary—because of equal pressures exerted all along its surface.
On their way out of town for the Memorial Day recess Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and all but six Republican senators killed legislation[i] that would have established an independent investigative commission on the January 6th insurrection. The attack on Cong-ress was intended to stop the Senate from certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory. The com-mission provided for in HR 3233 would have been similar in composition and operation to the one appointed following the 9/11 terror attacks.
Republican resistance to the January 6th commission carries with it an ominous warning of what’s to come for US climate policy. I’ll get to the why-of-it in a moment.
First, a bit of discussion on the legislative process used to kill the January 6th commission bill is in order, as it will undoubtedly impact negotiations in the matters of infrastructure and climate.
This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America … I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years, people will look back and say, ‘This was the moment America won the future.
—President Joe Biden
It’s nearly Memorial Day, and President Biden’s hoped-for agreement on an infrastructure bill seems to be in doubt given where the negotiations between Republicans and Democrats are after several weeks of discussions. Luckily there is nothing sacred about the Memorial Day target.
However, given how antsy progressive Democrats are to address infrastructure and climate issues, Biden’s target date may prove to be the line in the sand—marking the time the parties retreat to their partisan positions—each blaming the other for any failures.
A quick recap of where the parties are in their negotiations and a bit about the clean energy and climate provisions of the President’s proposed American Jobs Plan (the Jobs Plan or Plan) are in order.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.