Washington Weekly: June 23, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
Infrastructure Bill Updates:
- Last week, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), released details of an infrastructure plan that would cost roughly $1.2 trillion over eight years, including $579 billion in new spending. It would reportedly include $47.2 billion in climate resiliency and $10 billion on electric buses, but falls far short of Biden’s original climate provisions.
- Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are weighing a $6 trillion package that includes many more climate measures than the bipartisan plan but currently has no bipartisan support, and would thus require passage through reconciliation (explained in more detail below).
- The League of Conservation Voters released a statement calling on the President and congress to only consider a bill that will act significantly on climate and environmental justice.
- The Senate Energy Committee will debate the climate and energy aspects of the infrastructure package at its hearing tomorrow morning.
Last week, GM announced that it is increasing its investment in EVs and autonomous vehicle technologies to $35 billion by 2025, a 75% increase from it’s commitment made last year.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm wrote an op-ed in last Thursday’s USA Today about China’s efforts to overtake the US in the clean energy economy, calling on congress to pass the American Jobs Plan to keep pace.
This week, the House is set to vote on three resolutions that would restore Obama-era methane emissions protections rolled back by Trump. The resolutions have already passed the Senate with bipartisan support, so passage in the House (which is expected on a bipartisan vote) would send them directly to President Biden’s desk, dealing a blow to Trump’s anti-environment legacy.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
The good news is that mainstream media is now consistently reporting on climate impact, and a majority of Americans believe that climate change is real and caused by humans. Even some conservatives (if not nearly enough) are taking action.
The bad news is that we are doing far too little, far too late. A recently-released report by the International Energy Agency outlined what it would realistically take for the planet to avoid some of the most devastating, irreversible impacts of climate change in the coming decades. Their answer: nearly every nation in the world would have to agree to stop using fossil fuels immediately — which obviously won’t happen.
While significant impact from climate change is inevitable, we must continue to push urgently for policies and practices that will limit and mitigate the damage — something that will look different for regions across the country and the world. A new report released by Environment America and Frontier Group, using data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, shows that offshore wind farms might prove to be one of the most effective tools for the Midwest, and specifically Michigan. Our state’s 3,000-plus miles of Great Lakes shoreline — among the most shoreline of any state after Alaska — has the potential to provide double the electricity Michiganders used from all sources in 2019, and produce three-quarters of Michigan’s predicted electricity needs by 2050 with the assumption of full electrification (meaning the state would be using full electric power).
If Michigan is going to see significant growth in offshore wind farms in the coming years that could play a key role in climate mitigation, it will need help from the federal government. The Biden administration has committed to drastically increase their use in the coming years, and has already approved the U.S.’s first major offshore wind farm. (Prior to that, the U.S. had a grand total of 7 offshore wind farms compared to Europe’s 5,400). While understanding that a holistic planning approach is necessary — including proper placement of turbines to maximize energy efficiency and being conscious of bird migration and other wildlife — Biden has made offshore wind an important component of his American Jobs Plan. Its inclusion in the final bill remains very much in limbo, however, due to Republican opposition.
With infrastructure debates gaining speed, it is critical that all of us who care about the future of our planet and our home state strongly urge congress and President Biden to include significant climate provisions, including investment in Great Lakes offshore wind farms, in the final version.
A Deeper Dive
With all of the recent talk about the Senate budget reconciliation process surrounding the infrastructure negotiations, a brief primer on what reconciliation actually means seems appropriate. Created out of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation is a way to expedite consideration of legislation pertaining to taxes, spending, and debt. The process also limits the number of amendments that can be considered on these bills, and, perhaps most importantly in a 50-50 Senate, is not subject to the filibuster which requires a 60-vote majority to pass most bills. (In a 50-50 split, the Vice President breaks the tie, giving Democrats the advantage in reconciliation with the current administration). It has been used twenty-one times since 1974, and remains a somewhat controversial tactic.
Some Democrats have long considered reconciliation as a strategy to pass climate action when and if they retained power in congress and the presidency — especially as they watched in horror as former President Trump removed the U.S. from global climate leadership and rolled back over 100 environmental regulations during his disastrous 4 years in office. While a few Democrats have been wary of using the reconciliation process to date, members of Congress and the public have increasingly realized (due to blatant partisan obstruction by the Republican Party) that, short of removing the filibuster, reconciliation is essentially the only remaining tool to address the ongoing climate crisis that grows worse every day.