Washington Weekly: September 8, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
Yesterday, environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, Climate Power, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for American Progress, and Sierra Club sent a letter to congress calling on them to include between $577 billion and $746 billion in climate measures in the Build Back Better Act budget reconciliation bill. The letter comes as drafting of the actual legislation for the $3.5 trillion package begins this week.
Today, our partners at the LCV Action Fund sent a letter to Members of Congress with a hard line in the sand — LCV will only consider endorsements for members who support key climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act. Washington Post’s “Power Up” has more analysis about the significance of LCV going “all in” to secure ambitious climate policy this year.
Also today, the Biden Administration announced that solar energy should make up nearly half of the country’s electricity by 2050. The goal is based on a new study conducted by the Department of Energy that shows how the U.S. can scale solar panel production fast enough over the next 3 decades to increase solar energy from providing 3% of our electricity today to over 45% by 2050. The announcement came a day after the President stated that “the nation and the world are in peril” from climate change when speaking from a neighborhood in Queens that was hit extremely hard by Hurricane Ida. Of course, if we are to meet this solar goal — and all needed climate change goals — congress must approve funding for clean energy investments.
Last Thursday, the EPA released a new analysis detailing the disproportionate impact racial minorities in the United States will bear from the effects of global warming. The study found that when global temperatures inevitably reach 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Native Americans will be 48% more likely to live in areas that will experience frequent flooding, Latinos will be 43% more likely to lose work hours due to extreme heat, and Black people will have significantly higher mortality rates. Black people are already 40% more likely to live in places with extreme temperatures and 41% more likely to live in an area with poor air quality, according to the report.
Americans from Louisiana to the East Coast are still trying to put their lives back together following the destruction of Hurricane Ida just over a week ago. Beyond the lives lost and the devastation left in the storm’s path, Ida highlighted how unprepared most cities are to handle the increasingly extreme weather that we are now experiencing, and will for decades to come, at a minimum. A sign of what we can expect in our futures: nearly 1 in 3 Americans have dealt with extreme weather in the past month.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
With Labor Day — the unofficial end to summer — now behind us, schools back in session, and the NFL season set to kickoff tomorrow, it’s time to reflect on a summer spent, at least in part by many Michiganders, on or close to one of our treasured Great Lakes. These beautiful bodies of water that define our home state are not only places to visit and pass lazy summer days, but make up one of the largest freshwater ecosystems in the world, consisting of 84% of the country’s, and 21% of the world’s, fresh surface drinking water. Like so much else, they are now being severely threatened by climate change.
The largest, deepest, and most northern of the Great Lakes, and the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, Lake Superior is now also one of the fastest warming lakes in the world. Once thought to be immune from algal blooms that have plagued other Great Lakes and thousands of inland lakes, warming water due to climate change has led to algae appearing in Lake Superior over the past couple of years, to the astonishment of residents and visitors alike who have never seen it. In addition to the harm done to fish and other aquatic species, the blooms may impact how people think of what is largely considered the cleanest, most pristine of the Great Lakes. Beyond algal blooms, Lake Superior has also experienced drastic decrease in ice in recent decades, with an average of 30% less ice covering the lake since 1973 (accounting for year-to-year variability).
Lake Michigan, the fourth largest lake by surface area in the world, and the largest lake located in entirely one country, is facing similar global warming threats. A new study released this year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory outlined the consistent increase in the temperature of deep waters in Lake Michigan over the past 30 years. This study was one of the first to specifically target long-term trends of deep water warming, which is a much more telling sign of climate change impacts since deep water is not affected by factors such as sunlight, wind, and other external factors that influence surface water temperature.
The effects of consistent warming deep water are many, impacting species that have adapted to current temperatures over the course of millennia, in some instances, and leading to significantly less ice cover. In fact, experts predict that, at the current pace of warming, the Great Lakes will be devoid of any lake ice by the end of the century — contributing to increased lake effect snow, more coastal erosion, the loss of aquatic species, and more frequent algal blooms, including those carrying toxins.
Climate-related problems throughout all five of the Great Lakes are worsening, including, in addition to the above, severe fluctuations in water levels, increasingly common toxic algal blooms that are ravaging Lake Erie and Lake Huron, invasive species, and more. Beyond human-caused destruction related to a warming planet, the Great Lakes also face a potentially catastrophic threat in the Line 5 pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Not only does the pipeline carry tar sands oil (which produces up to 15% more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional oil) that fosters our continued dependence on fossil fuel and has major climate change impacts, but a spill from the aging pipeline would cause extensive and irreparable damage to Michigan’s economy, public health, and environment, including up to 700 miles of shoreline, and the destruction of one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water.
In response to this summer’s extreme weather, and concern over treasured natural resources like the Great Lakes, many federal lawmakers see now as the critical time to push for climate action that would come in the form of passage of both the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill (now the Build Back Better Act). If passed, the bills would provide urgently-needed funding for climate mitigation measures, protection for natural resources including the Great Lakes, alternative energy sources that move us away from fossil fuel dependence and oil pipelines, and help for communities to prepare for the inevitable increase in extreme weather in years to come.
While funding for these imminent issues may seem obvious to many, much is still to be decided. Last week, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) — the critical Senate vote needed to pass the Build Back Better Act through reconciliation — called for a “strategic pause” to consider what should be included. Some House moderates, meanwhile, worry about the political backlash, hoping to avoid the same fate as House Democrats from the 1995 and 2010 midterm elections — when many voted for progressive policies with a first-term Democratic president in office, only to lose re-election in the following midterms.
Ultimately, Democrat leaders remain positive, especially on inclusion of significant climate funding in the final bills. How negotiations unfold in the House and Senate in the coming weeks, however, and what is included in the ultimate legislation, may well determine the future of the Great Lakes, our state, and our planet.
A Deeper Dive
Experts have made it clear that the only way we can limit the worst outcomes of climate change is to cut climate pollution in half by 2030 — something that clearly requires national (and international) cooperation. Congress has the power to achieve that goal through the investments included in the Build Back Better Act, that would put us on a clear path to get there. See the below visual for where we are to-date, and how congressional action can get to 50% reduction by 2030.
Starting next week we will begin to highlight stories from a wide range of Michiganders — youth leaders, climate and drinking water experts, business owners, community advocates, and more — sharing why it is so important that Congress take action to protect our water, change the climate, and #BuildBackBetter. To get a flavor of some of the stories, check out our video recap of Michigan LCV’s (and Michigan LCV Education Fund’s) work from August on the Build Back Better Act and more.