For the third time in three decades, Congress launches serious climate legislation

Nasa just declared that this month of June is tied with 2020 for the hottest we have ever measured. At present, forecasters are predicting that on Monday the UK, which holds the longest instrumental temperature record in the world, could see the hottest day this nation has never recorded.

It was the backdrop to Thursday’s news that Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat of West Virginia, would not support climate legislation, seemingly ending his long and excruciating flirtation with Joe Biden on the climate components of the Build Back Better bill, the president’s ambitious economic package, which contained the most sweeping climate action ever taken in the Senate. To provide the even more atrocious context: this is the third time in the last thirty years that Congress has balked at serious climate legislation.

In July 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 (led by another West Virginia Democrat, Robert Byrd) to pass a resolution stating that the United States should not be a signatory to what became known as the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that he was asking too much. this nation and too few developing countries. Vice President Al Gore returned from the Kyoto climate change conference in December with a treaty, but President Bill Clinton didn’t even bother to send it to the Senate, knowing it would be voted down. and other attempts to pass climate legislation have never come to fruition. floor.

In 2009, cap-and-trade legislation passed the House by a narrow margin – more than forty Democrats joined Republicans in siding with the fossil fuel industry. The bill limped along in the Senate, where John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California could not find a Republican co-sponsor. They didn’t even put the bill to a vote, knowing it would lose; private whipping matters at the time said they would be lucky to get forty votes.

And now this failure, all the more painful for being so close to success. The Democratic Party, pushed hard by young activists in the Sunrise Movement, rallied behind Build Back Better, pushing it through the House with almost no dissenting votes among Democrats (a good thing, given the narrow margins the Party has). currently enjoys there). This reflected a deep Party-wide consensus; in the 2020 presidential primaries, climate change was a top priority for Democrats, and Biden skillfully used it to win the White House. His closing ads in the general election campaign included climate ads; his position helped win him broad (and crucial) support among young voters.

Manchin didn’t do Biden the favor of saying no upfront. Instead, he asked the president to pull the sticks out of the bill (the clean energy pricing plan that would have forced utilities to adopt clean energy) and then he nibbled on the carrots. He used the hope of his vote to pass the more fossil-fuel-friendly Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and he used the fear of his rejection to prevent Biden from invoking authority. executive to block federal leases and pipelines. Although the sentiments of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are still hard to read, it appears there was a strong forty-nine-vote bloc for climate actions in the bill. But forty-nine earns you precisely nothing.

So now we’ve scratched three times. The country that historically put more carbon into the atmosphere than any other, and whose scientists have played the leading role in determining the climate crisis, has refused to do anything about it. Our Congress — the place where, in 1988, Jim Hansen sounded the first real public alarm about global warming — has never passed major climate legislation. The most distressed person in all of this might be John Kerry, who is now the president’s global climate envoy. He’s used the prospect of serious US action to try to spur the rest of the world into action, and without that card in the deck he’s mostly left with wild cards. (Do you think Xi Jinping is not fully aware of what Joe Manchin just did?)

But there are also many other mourners. Political analysts who have spent the past two years overhauling legislation every time Manchin has made another request, only to find their work in vain. Engineers and contractors who relied on the infusion of bill money (a tiny part of the subsidies extended over the decades to fossil fuels) to accelerate the rapid transition to renewable energies. Young people who must live in what geologists may one day call the Mandchin era. There is no chance now that the United States can meet even the modest emission reduction targets that Biden promised for this decade, and so the temperature will rise much more than it should. Most bad decisions politicians make are forgotten over time – there have been Manchins before, and there will be Manchins again. But this Manchin, in 2022, will never be forgotten, not while humans grapple with the most fundamental challenge we have ever faced. ♦

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