Washington Weekly: September 1, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
- On Sunday, Hurricane Ida struck the Louisiana coast with wind gusts reaching 150 miles per hour and mass flooding throughout parts of the region, making it one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the U.S.
- In a cruel twist of fate, Ida touched down in the New Orleans area 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city. Hurricane Ida was the biggest storm since Katrina to hit the region.
- The hurricane made landfall earlier than expected and increased rapidly in speed and severity as it got closer to shore due, in part, to climate change as hurricanes can pick up speed more rapidly in warmer ocean water. The remarkable increase in severity left meteorologists amazed, and local officials and residents without adequate time to prepare.
- By Monday morning, more than 1 million residents, mostly from New Orleans, were without power, and roughly 3,000 remained under a flash flood emergency. While many remain without power and water, the good news is that the $14.5 billion flood protection system — that includes 200 miles of barriers around the city of New Orleans built following Hurricane Katrina — largely held, preventing Katrina-like destruction within the city.
- In response to the storm, President Biden issued a number of federal actions, including: deployment of 5,000 members of the National Guard; authorization of drones and satellites to assess damage done to energy infrastructure; distribution of food, water, and generators; and full federal support for rescue and cleanup efforts led by FEMA.
- Here are photos of the destruction.
In other climate-related extreme weather news, the Caldor Fire in California picked up significant steam overnight into today, and is now headed towards the most populous parts of Lake Tahoe, causing thousands to flee their homes. Having already burned 190,000 acres, the fire is only 16% contained.
On Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced that his department is creating the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity to oversee the impact that climate change is having on people’s health. The new office, which will be temporarily run by John Balbus, a senior official from the National Institutes of Health, will implement initiatives that reduce the carbon emissions of health providers, increase protections to citizens most exposed to climate impact, and play a key role in climate change work across federal departments.
Earlier this week, United State District Court Judge Rosemary Marquez overturned a Trump-era environmental policy that greatly limited federal restrictions on dumping of pesticides, fertilizers, and other industrial chemicals into millions of streams and wetlands across the country. The former president established the policy after real estate developers and the fossil fuel industry complained that Obama-era water protection rules were overly burdensome. Judge Marquez’s ruling means that protections will temporarily fall back to those set in 1986 (those in place prior to President Obama’s more strict regulations) as the Biden administration plans to impose even more stringent water protection rules next year.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
Last week, in a major step towards combating the ongoing and worsening impacts of climate change, House Democrats advanced a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that outlines a significant increase to our country’s social safety net (more closely aligning us with other modernized, western countries in care of their citizens) and a host of urgently-needed climate measures. With the Senate having passed the $3.5 trillion budget plan a few weeks earlier, Democrats can now move forward with crafting legislation to be passed through the reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority vote. The Senate also passed the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill in early August, which, barring any internal squabbles among Democrats, will likely pass the House in September and head to the President’s desk.
While Democrats now hold all of the cards in their effort to pass President Biden’s full Build Back Better agenda, they must stay together — and stave off increasing threats from corporate lobbyists who oppose tax increases — to ensure critical climate change, jobs, and justice measures are included in both bills. The race to ensure support from Democrats and their constituents has begun, and Michigan plays a key role — as evidenced last Saturday when Bernie Sanders joined members of the Michigan congressional delegation at a Detroit rally promoting the infrastructure bill and reconciliation bill.
If Democrats can hold their caucus, they predict that the combined climate policies in the two bills will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030 — keeping us on pace to hit the crucial goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts in the second half of the century.
Specifically, the preliminary funding breakdown for climate change policies in the two bills that will get us to 45% reduction are as follows:
- 41.9% in a clean electricity payment program and clean energy tax incentives;
- 15.7% in clean vehicle incentives;
- 9.1% in institution of a methane fee;
- 8.1% in agriculture and forest management;
- 4.7% in transit electrification and ridership increases;
- 4.4% in clean building incentives;
- 4.1% in clean fuel tax incentives;
- 3.5% in repeal of fossil fuel subsidies;
- 2.9% in rural co-op clean energy support;
- 2.8% in an accelerator to provide financing for clean energy technology and more;
- 1.2% in coastal resilience;
- 1.2% in industrial decarbonization demonstration projects;
- 0.5% cleaning up abandoned mines and wells.
So, what does all of this mean for Michigan?
A lot, it turns out. The sizable investments in clean vehicle incentives and infrastructure, and in agricultural management, will have a significant impact given the role of both the auto and farming industries in our state’s economy. Certain policies such as clean building incentives and the repeal of fossil fuel subsidies will be important to reduce carbon emissions everywhere, including Michigan.
Perhaps the biggest game changer for Michigan, however, is the Clean Electricity Payment Program that makes up a significant portion of the funding from these bills. The program will combine a federal renewable energy standard with funds to switch our utilities over to renewable sources.
In 2008, Michigan enacted a Renewable Energy Standard stipulating the state obtain at least 10% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. When that standard was met, it was raised to 15% by 2021. Now, more than halfway through the deadline year, we are only at 11%, and some of that includes carbon-based biofuels. Our current pace is not nearly enough to put us on track to avoid catastrophic global warming impacts, so these federal standards are critical to help Michigan catch up.
Without these incentives, our investor-owned utilities will continue to use too much fossil fuel energy for too long. Currently, the utilities are investing heavily in natural gas. Natural gas provided the largest share of electricity generation for the first time in Michigan’s history in 2020. Michigan is also the largest residential consumer of propane in the nation. If we are to play our role in tackling climate change, Michigan’s utilities must reverse course and adopt fossil fuel free energy sources called for in the Clean Electricity Payment Program, as the rest of society works to electrify everything.
As we’ve been saying for weeks, the stakes are incredibly high and grow more so every day. You can take action here by calling on your Representative and Senators to support the full Build Back Better agenda and help save our planet.
A Deeper Dive
This summer has been marked by historic climate change-driven precipitation trends throughout the United States — unprecedented drought and fires in the western half of the country, and similarly unparalleled rains and flooding in the eastern half. These maps show that stark divide, splitting the country almost directly down the middle.