Dozens of House Democrats press POTUS to act on climate change

Dozens of House Democrats press POTUS to act on climate change
Presiden Joe Biden

Nearly 90 House Democrats on Monday urged President Joe Biden to revive the party's stalled reconciliation package—which has been approved by the lower chamber but blocked in the Senate—by focusing on measures designed to mitigate and adapt to the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.

"Throughout 2021, we bore witness to the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, further illustrating why transformational action cannot wait," 89 Democratic lawmakers—led by Reps. Sean Casten (Ill.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), and Nikema Williams (Ga.)—wrote in a letter to the White House.

"Inaction now will mean irreversible consequences for our future generations," they added. "Given the widespread agreement in the U.S. Senate for House-passed climate provisions, we have an opportunity to recommence negotiations with climate serving as a key starting point."

Democratic lawmakers' first iteration of a reconciliation package—dubbed the Build Back Better Act—proposed significant investments to strengthen the nation's feeble welfare state and facilitate a clean energy transition. It was relentlessly attacked by Republicans and watered down by Democrats bankrolled by Big Pharma and Big Oil before right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) finally killed the deal in December.

Although legislation moving through the budget reconciliation process is immune to a 60-vote filibuster by the GOP minority, its passage through the evenly split upper chamber requires the support of every member of the Senate Democratic Caucus—including Manchin and fellow conservative Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), another leading saboteur of the Build Back Better Act.

Arguing that the House-passed bill's proposal to invest roughly $555 billion over a decade in renewable energy and other green projects "can serve as the building block to restart negotiations" in the Senate, the letter calls for forging ahead on the climate portions of the legislation—meaning that the bill's other proposals to expand and improve the nation's tattered social safety net would be postponed.

As The Hill reported, "Attempting to pass only the climate provisions of Build Back Better could risk torpedoing Democrats' other social spending initiatives."

However, "with united Republican opposition and no prospect for ending the filibuster in the Senate, the 89 House Democrats... suggest it's worth pushing ahead on the climate provisions," the news outlet noted.

"In just the past four years, record-setting wildfires, superstorms, and heat waves have already cost our country tens of billions of dollars more in damages," states the letter. "Damages have also included the loss of homes and the displacement of families across the country—the effects of which disproportionately impact communities of color. It is clear that climate change is a threat multiplier to our economy."

The signatories implore the president to make "the largest climate investment in our nation's history, setting the United States on course to meet our 50-52% greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by 2030, while creating millions of good-paying union jobs, reducing energy costs for consumers, advancing environmental justice, investing in climate-resilient housing and community infrastructure, and strengthening our economy."

The lawmakers make clear that there is no time to waste:

Responding now will protect American families and businesses against the most devastating financial impacts. But the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to transition at the speed required, and we will have incurred billions in damages and harm to our communities, infrastructure, environment, and public health and safety along the way.

"We're living through a code-red moment for the planet," Casten said in a statement. "This can't wait any longer."

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned—in a new report that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described as an "atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership"—that humanity has a "brief and rapidly closing window" to avoid the worst effects of the planetary emergency, which is on track to exacerbate deadly extreme weather, with especially catastrophic consequences for the world's poorest and most vulnerable.

"With a clean energy leader in the White House, science-affirming majorities in Congress, and a mandate from the American people to deliver on climate, we have a window for action and a moral obligation not to let it pass us by," said Casten, who represents the western suburbs of Chicago. "Every day we fail to reach an agreement on the baseline climate investments passed by the House is a day American families and businesses pay the price at the pumps and oil-rich autocrats profit."

Bowman, a democratic socialist member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), echoed Casten, who belongs to the neoliberal New Democrat Coalition—illustrating the broad popularity of Build Back Better's climate provisions across the party's left and right wings.

"We cannot wait another day to protect our children and communities from disasters like Hurricane Ida, which devastated my district," said Bowman, who represents part of The Bronx and several suburbs of New York City. "We cannot wait another day to safeguard the future of humanity."

"Climate change will rapidly outpace our ability to adapt if we fail to shift away from oil and gas as soon as possible," he continued, citing the latest IPCC report.

Moreover, as gas prices continue to soar higher following Western governments' moves to restrict imports of Russian fossil fuels over Moscow's deadly assault on Ukraine, Bowman added that "it is clearer than ever that we need historic investments in clean energy now."

Several environmental groups, including Rewiring America, Earthjustice, and the Sunrise Movement, endorsed the letter.

It was signed by six committee chairs, every Democratic member of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, all eight leaders of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, 26 members of New Democrat Coalition, and 52 members of the CPC, according to Casten's office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), however, did not sign the letter.

While progressives have long urged Biden to exercise his executive authority to the fullest possible extent to improve the lives of working people and help secure a livable planet in the face of staunch opposition in Congress, they also have not given up on pushing for further legislative action.

Also on Monday, more than 120 advocacy groups called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to swiftly translate the party's domestic priorities into a reconciliation package that can reach Biden's desk by next month, as Common Dreams reported.

According to Casten, "Restarting negotiations with climate action is the clearest if not the only path forward to deliver tangible results to the American people."

Williams, a CPC member who represents most of Atlanta, said that the prospect of failing to address the climate crisis "makes me think of all the opportunities my six-year-old son, Carter, won't have."

"We're starting to see the impacts of climate change already, so we have to act fast to tackle the climate crisis while we still can," said Williams. "To build a better America, President Biden must start reconciliation negotiations with climate action as a goal. We can't afford to have our children and grandchildren foot the bill for something we can address now."

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