Climate Corner: Bipartisanship, money should not be focus
Aug 7, 2021
A bipartisan infrastructure bill is moving through the U.S. Senate, slowly but surely, and is being touted by the White House as a major achievement. The $1.2 trillion bill (with approximately $550 billion in new spending) is a good start, but it is not nearly enough to meet the climate crisis and the multiple other infrastructure-related crises we face with the urgency demanded.
The original proposal from the Biden administration was a $2.6 trillion proposal with $566 billion for R&D and manufacturing, $387 billion for housing, schools, and buildings, and $400 billion for home-and-community-based care. Virtually all of this was wiped out in the bipartisan compromise. $157 billion was originally set aside for electric vehicle-related infrastructural investment. That number is down to $15 billion in the compromise. $363 billion was set aside in the original proposal for clean energy tax credits. Those credits are wiped out of the bipartisan compromise.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill, according to Bloomberg Law, would also, “eliminate the need for federal agencies to do environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act for activities like applying pesticides and doing timber cuts on parcels of land up to 3,000 acres. Bloomberg Law continues, “The bill would also codify an executive order President Donald Trump enacted in 2017 that sought to streamline environmental reviews by consolidating the decision-making process across agencies and putting new deadlines in place. President Joe Biden rescinded the Trump order early in his administration.”
Stephen Schima, Senior Legislative Counsel at Earthjustice, points out that, “These provisions on NEPA not only severely limit or, at times, eliminate the review of health and environmental impacts, but taken together, they may effectively silence frontline communities, shield decisions from public scrutiny, and make it more difficult to hold the government accountable when they ignore impacts on communities most affected by the climate crisis.”
Progressives in the House of Representatives are vowing not to support this legislation unless a companion bill, a $3.5 trillion measure that would need to be passed using budget reconciliation in the Senate to pass on a simple majority vote without Republican support, is also sent to them. These progressives have the votes in the House to force this companion bill concession, and I hope they hold strong and do so. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is already saying she opposes the $3.5 trillion price tag of the companion measure and Sen. Manchin was recently booed by his own caucus when mentioning deficit concerns. It seems deficits are never a concern with defense spending (the most recent National Defense Authorization Act authorized total military spending of nearly $778 billion), but always become a concern on desperately needed investments like infrastructure.
All Democratic Senators, including Senators Manchin and Sinema, are poised to support a budget resolution from the Senate Budget Committee outlining what the budget reconciliation companion legislation will look like. The Senate Parliamentarian advises on what passes muster under budget reconciliation rules (the Parliamentarian’s role is strictly advisory). The companion measure has got to pass, along with the bipartisan compromise bill, to even begin making the investments we desperately need. Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action supports the Transform, Heal, & Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act, which authorizes investments of at least $1 trillion annually between Fiscal Years 2022-2031 – you can learn more about the THRIVE Act at greennewdealnetwork.org.
Action cannot wait. Approximately 14,000 scientists from 1,990 jurisdictions in 34 countries recently published a report in the peer-reviewed scientific journal BioScience stating that, “We suggest an urgent need for transformative change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, more broadly, human overexploitation of the planet.” According to sciencealert.com, “The researchers suggested, ‘a three-pronged near-term policy approach:’ a significantly higher global price on carbon, a worldwide phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels, and development of climate reserves to protect and restore biodiversity and carbon sinks).”
When our only home in the cosmos is becoming unstable and gradually uninhabitable, we can’t worry about bipartisanship and arbitrary price tags. Government spending is not equivalent to household spending and government does not operate like a business with a profit motive or need for return on investment–though there will be almost unfathomable short-and-long-term returns on such important investments. It’s now or quite possibly never.
Eric Engle is Chairman of the not-for-profit volunteer organization Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Board Member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Co-Chairman of the Sierra Club of West Virginia Chapter’s Executive Committee.