The Past Week in D.C.
Voting Rights Update:
- Last week, President Biden formally endorsed changing Senate rules regarding the filibuster in order for Senate Democrats to pass voting rights legislation, suggesting a filibuster “carve-out” pertaining to voting rights rather than an overhaul of the entire system. If the Senate adopted such a measure, Democrats could pass the legislation along party lines with a 50% majority (plus Vice President Harris).
- The House passed the legislation last week using a special technique to open debate in the Senate before the cloture vote, setting the stage for a Senate vote.
- This week, while the Senate continues to debate the legislation, most expect it to fail due to opposition to the filibuster reform by Democratic Senator’s Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) and Joe Manchin (WV).
- The decision by Senators’ Manchin and Sinema to block the legislation has received strong condemnation from fellow Democrats, voting rights advocates, and more – including the NAACP, Emily’s List, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), the family of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban, and former Detroit Piston’s Coach Stan Van Gundy. Both big backers of Sinema’s prior campaigns, Emily’s List and NARAL stated they could no longer endorse candidates who do not support voting rights reform.
- The League of Conservation Voters joined several other advocacy groups in also refusing to consider endorsements for Senators who obstruct voting rights legislation.
- Regardless of the likely outcome, Senate Majority Leader Schumer remains committed to holding a vote in order to put Manchin’s and Sinema’s opposition on the record.
On Friday, Evergreen Action, an organization built out of former Governor Jay Inslee’s progressive climate policies, released a detailed memo tracking progress-to-date on President Biden’s climate action one year into his first term. The upshot: the president has made progress, but has a long way to go. According to the memo, Biden has made some progress on all 46 of his executive climate action campaign promises, but only 10 are considered “complete.” While the president has laid a solid foundation for climate progress, he must make good on all of his climate promises and further expand his climate ambitions if he is to achieve his overarching goal – a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 50% by 2030.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
Monday, January 17, was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. The national holiday, celebrated this year two days after what would have been Dr. King’s 93rd birthday, provides an annual reminder of the civil rights leader’s incredible legacy of fighting for racial equality – and, more than 50 years after his death, how much farther we have to go to fulfill his vision for America.
This year’s holiday came at a particularly troubling time, as we face multifaceted challenges of an ongoing global pandemic, an ever-growing climate crisis, and the most serious threats to our democracy since the founding of our country – issues that all have an outsized impact on minorities, and specifically on Black America.
Yesterday, the day following MLK Day, the Senate began debate on voting rights legislation aimed at combating the onslaught of racially-motivated anti-voting laws being passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures all across the country. While the bill faces long odds following Senator Krysten Sinema’s (D-AZ) announcement last week that she does not support filibuster reform that would allow passage via reconciliation, Dr. King’s family has been vocal about the urgent need to pass voting rights legislation that their father would have strongly supported. His eldest son, Martin Luther King III, went so far as to invoke his father’s famous 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which he criticized “the white moderate who is more devoted to order than justice,” likening moderate Democrats blocking this legislation to those whom his father dealt with during the civil rights movement.
Similarly infuriating from an equal justice perspective is the Senate’s inability to thus far pass the Build Back Better Act, which includes a host of strong environmental justice benefits aimed at underserved and minority communities hit hardest by climate change. Just a sampling of those benefits include:
- The GHG Emissions Reductions Fund and Clean Energy Sustainability Accelerator: A green investment fund with a focus on deployment of clean energy with 40% of investments targeted to disadvantaged communities.
- Reducing air pollution and toxics at public schools: Focused on low-income and disadvantaged communities.
- Low-income solar: To provide pollution-free energy and community solar and storage assistance to affordable housing complexes and underserved communities.
- Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP): To lower energy bills for low-and-middle income households and create clean energy jobs.
- Building a Civilian Climate Corps: To employ the next generation of workers to address climate change, prioritizing training for people in low income communities and communities of color.
- Reconnecting communities: To restore and revitalize Black communities that were deliberately segregated by federal highway construction in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Many of the environmental justice issues that the Build Back Better Act would address would be especially beneficial for Michigan residents. For example, Michigan lacks school citing guidelines and requirements, which leads to disproportionate and devastating health impacts for students living and learning in heavily polluted and mostly Black places like southwest Detroit. Michiganders also pay some of the highest energy bills in the Great Lakes region, which the Build Back Better Act would help to address by lowering families’ energy bills by an average of $500 annually, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group.
In addition, many of the BBB Act proposals outlined above present opportunities to build off of ongoing state-level progress, such as further investment in clean energy jobs, a space in which Michigan has consistently been a leader, and more progress to reconnect traditionally Black communities, as is underway with the I-375 removal in downtown Detroit.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day offers an annual chance for all of us to take stock of where we are as a society when it comes to racial, social, and environmental justice and equality. As we sit here today, watching the senate all but surely fail to enact voting rights legislation in the face of unprecedented attacks on our democracy targeting minorities, and Congress unable to pass any climate legislation as we continue to hurdle towards catastrophic damage, one can only think of how disappointed Dr. King would be.
Hopefully by MLK Day 2023 we can say that we have begun to take action to live up to his great legacy, and, to paraphrase him, commit ourselves to the noble struggles of our time, in order to “make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
A Deeper Dive
Late last week, the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions released their draft MI Healthy Climate Plan aimed at meeting climate and energy goals outlined last year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The draft plan, which focuses on addressing the climate crisis and achieving statewide carbon neutrality by 2050, is a strong start, but needs to include more aggressive strategies and objectives to achieve these goals. Additionally, as is the case with the Build Back Better Act, there will need to be a concrete framework for implementation to ensure the benefits of the plan are equitably and effectively put into practice.
Over the next month, the Council and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) will be looking for public input on how the draft plan can be improved. There will be opportunities to provide written feedback, as well as provide comments during virtual listening sessions on January 26th and February 8th. Stay tuned for details about how you can get involved in the coming weeks.