A failure by the US Congress to pass a budget reconciliation package laden with climate policies and clean energy investments would not only be a blow to President Joe Biden, but would greatly damage prospects for obtaining more aggressive climate action plans from around the world, the head of the Environmental Defense Fund said Sept. 22.
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Debate on Capitol Hill continues as Democrats work to push through a $3.5 trillion federal spending plan as an anticipated Sept. 27 House of Representatives vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package draws closer. House progressives are demanding that the Senate vote out its version of the reconciliation bill before they will back the infrastructure bill, while moderates are fighting to rein in the budget bill, saying they won't support it at all without passage of the infrastructure bill as planned.
EDF President Fred Krupp said he was still hopeful that Congress could broker a deal on reconciliation. His group, he said, would be focused on whether the ultimate package signed into law is able, based on independent analysis, to realistically achieve the emissions reductions Biden promised to the world, namely a 50%-52% reduction by 2030 from 2005 levels.
Biden has been pressing other countries to increase the ambition of their emissions reduction targets ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). World leaders will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, in November to set new goals aimed at containing the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
"When the US is not leading ... as it wasn't doing [during] the last administration, the COP process doesn't ratchet up ambition," Krupp said at a virtual event that Axios hosted.
From pledge to reality
Because the reconciliation package is seen as a key element in turning the Biden administration's steep climate pledges into a reality, showing up in Glasgow with that legislation dead, delayed, or badly watered down "would be very damaging to the whole world's ability to come to a good agreement," Krupp said.
"The president wants to lead, but it's up to Congress to pass the sort of policies that demonstrate we will meet President Biden's commitment of a 50% reduction by 2030," he continued. "If for some reason Congress fails to do that, it not only damages US credibility, but it also dampens the likelihood that the world will get the ambition" needed to thwart the worst impacts of climate change.
White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, who spoke earlier at the Axios event, said she fully expected Congress to act on the president's climate agenda within the next couple of weeks as these are "important investments" for the economy as well as the climate.
"But we're not going to rely on that to get us where we need to go," she said. "We have the tools that we need available to us to make this the decisive decade, and we're going to keep using them."
She did not expand on those tools beyond earlier references to domestic action already underway, including work to garner industry pledges for significant investments in clean electricity, electric vehicles, and sustainable aviation fuels.
"We fully expect we'll go into Glasgow with our head held high and with a little bit of an edge to know that we all have to work together right now because this is the time of our life that we need to actually dedicate all the resources we can to give our kids a healthy future," McCarthy said.
McCarthy contended that the whole-of-government approach to climate was not punishing industry, but creating opportunities for taking "back some of the supply chains we've lost" and growing union jobs while transitioning to clean energy.
Beyond combatting the wildfires, droughts, flooding, and heat stress brought on by climate change, the federal government was also tackling "the challenge of how we motivate our business sector and send them all the signals" to demonstrate commitment to achieving net-zero emissions in 2050, McCarthy said.
Krupp later said that while goal setting out to 2050 was important, he wanted to see more near-term action plans coming from companies.
"In addition to doing what they can in their own footprint and their supply chain, it's really important that companies add advocacy to get the policies in place that meet" their pledges, he said, adding that more corporations should be lobbying on behalf of the climate sections of the reconciliation bill.
He predicted that more companies are going to start to be called out and held accountable for their actions or lack thereof on climate.
"They increasingly, I think, will have to break from trade associations that are being obstructionists and not trying to create the future that's needed for their businesses to thrive, ... for all Americans and the world to thrive," Krupp said. "We have to act urgently on climate, and businesses have to be a bigger part, especially advancing the policies we need through governments because voluntary action, as good as it is, doesn't add up to enough."