Washington Weekly: September 22, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
Climate change was front and center at the United Nations General Assembly meeting this week. Among other important topics (covered in further detail below), President Biden vowed to vastly increase climate aid to developing nations who are not large emitters of carbon yet are often most impacted by climate destruction. Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping of China pledged that his country — the world’s biggest carbon emitter — will stop building coal-powered power plants abroad.
Last week, the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced that they are launching an investigation into the disinformation spread for years by the fossil fuel industry. The announcement comes after reports of fossil fuel lobbyists and executives having covered up their knowledge of the climate impacts of fossil fuel, much the way the tobacco industry was exposed having covered up information about the health impacts of smoking in the 1990s. The committee is planning a high profile hearing for October 28, and is inviting the heads of major oil companies to attend and testify.
Michigan Climate News (more updates from D.C. below):
- Governor Whitmer and Republican leaders in the state legislature announced a budget deal on Tuesday. In addition to “historic investments” in child care, as well as increased funding for the state police, municipal governments, and higher education, the bipartisan deal includes a 35% increase to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The new $690 million EGLE budget will include $45 million for lead service line replacement in Flint and $92.7 million to combat PFAS contamination and other drinking water issues throughout the state.
- Last week, expert witnesses testified in front of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) regarding Enbridge Oil’s proposed tunnel to house the dangerous Line 5 pipeline as a “safe” alternative to shutting it down. In addition to the obvious risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac, their argument centered on the significant climate change impact of building the tunnel and continuing to operate the pipeline.
- As was the hope of Ford Motor Company, environmental groups, and politicians calling for a full transition to electric cars in the coming decades, demand for the fully electric F-150 Lightning is far outpacing supply. In response, Ford announced that it is planning to invest $250 million and 450 new jobs at three planets to build more of the electric trucks faster.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
The coming weeks may well prove to be one of the most consequential periods ever in the fight against global warming and for progress on national and international climate change policy. Given the urgency of this moment, for the next few weeks this section of this newsletter will, at times, be dedicated to providing updates on congressional negotiations and other relevant national and international climate issues — all of which will certainly impact our home state, but will be less directly Michigan-specific than usual.
Both the Senate and the House are back in session this week in the midst of very tense negotiations over the infrastructure bill, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House, and the “Build Back Better Act” (the budget reconciliation bill), where legislative language is still being hashed out amongst moderates and progressives in the Democratic Party.
In August, Speaker Nancy Pelosi set an internal deadline of September 27 to hold a House vote on the infrastructure package, part of a deal struck with moderate Democrats to advance the Build Back Better Act — but that deadline may be slipping. With less than a week to go, moderates are threatening to vote against the reconciliation bill should the infrastructure bill not come to a vote on the 27th, while some progressives are vowing to vote against the infrastructure bill if the reconciliation package doesn’t come up for a vote first, or simultaneously.
To be clear, both pieces of legislation are critical to move our country in a direction to meet the challenges of this century. However, the specific climate provisions contained in the Build Back Better Act are absolutely essential if we are to enact anything close to what is necessary to 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 our lifetimes.
For better or worse, the man with the most power appears to be Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate from West Virginia and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that will help craft the climate legislative language. While Sen. Manchin claims to support climate change action, he has expressed concern over the reconciliation bill’s price tag and has both personal wealth and political capital invested in the fossil fuel industry.
Barring any unlikely Republican support for this urgently-needed legislation, Democrats must secure Manchin’s vote to pass climate measures in a bill that is already a significant compromise from the original $6 trillion plan, and, despite political posturing by Republicans and moderate Democrats, is in no way extreme. If the bills ultimately do not pass, and we miss out on a once-in-a-generation, last-ditch effort to save our planet, many will place the blame squarely at the feet of moderates like Manchin (and Republicans, who refuse to support virtually any climate legislation).
Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles up the I-95 corridor, the U.N. General Assembly is meeting in New York this week to discuss, among other topics, international COVID-19 response, humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and Myanmar, and climate change. The backdrop of their climate discussion is the report released last Friday detailing that even if all countries met the pledges they made during the 2015 Paris climate accord — and pledges made since then, including those made by the Biden administration this year — global temperatures are still set to rise 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, causing “catastrophic” damage, according to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Key to this week’s meeting will be setting global commitments ahead of next month’s G20 summit in Rome, and the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November, while also encouraging countries and businesses who have not yet made climate neutrality pledges to do so.
In his speech to the General Assembly yesterday, President Biden touted his administration’s climate plans and urged for unity in the face of common global threats like climate change. While Secretary General Guterres and others have praised the United States’ commitment to climate change since President Biden took office, the climate credibility of the U.S. remains very much in question, with lingering uncertainty over passage of climate legislation that simply must be enacted for the sake of humanity.
Time is running out for congress to meet their own internal deadline to pass these critically needed measures, and for the world to act collectively on climate change before it’s too late. Some, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, are ramping up their calls for action now, as the President’s entire domestic agenda and, indeed, the fate of the planet, hang in the balance.
A Deeper Dive
As should be clear to anyone who consistently reads this newsletter, climate change is certainly not a laughing matter. For one night, though, it may be… Tonight, seven cable and network late-night shows are participating in late-night’s first ever Climate Night to raise awareness of the issue (and crack a few jokes when possible). The shows that plan to participate include “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” on NBC; “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and “The Late Late Show With James Corden” on CBS; “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” on TBS; “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC; and “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” on Comedy Central. When asked about why their show was taking part, Samantha Bee made the important point that, “we need to not be submerged underwater in order to have successful late-night shows.”
Weather Alert: Several inches of rain fell in the last two days in southeast Michigan, with more in the forecast. Rivers are quickly rising and could see record water levels — and flooding — soon. Take precautions and check in on your loved ones and neighbors.