A barge loaded with coal sits in the Ohio River. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A group of congressional Democrats on Tuesday called for preserving the climate portions of President Joe Biden’s stalled domestic spending bill as Democrats in the U.S. Senate rewrite the measure.
U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Tina Smith of Minnesota and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, along with Reps. Kathy Castor of Florida and Donald McEachin of Virginia, said on a press call that the climate crisis demands action. The call was organized by the environmental advocacy group League of Conservation Voters.
The Democrats suggested that the portions of the bill known as Build Back Better that deal with climate should be prioritized as the Senate reworks the House-passed measure amid internal disagreements.
“We are in a code red moment for climate,” said Castor, the chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. “This is our moment to deliver. We cannot let it pass us by.”
Asked if a measure would still be worthwhile if it dropped social programs like an expanded child tax credit, but did include the climate spending, Smith said Democrats must pass what they can.
“We have to find a package that’s got votes from 50 senators,” she said. “Everybody on this call strongly supports the child tax credit, but we got to figure out what [can get] support amongst 50 people.”
A lone Democratic opponent, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, appeared to doom the $1.85 trillion spending bill last month, in part over his opposition to an expansion of the child tax credit. The expansion, passed in 2021 as part of a stimulus package, expired at the end of the year.
Manchin said in a Fox News appearance he was “a no” on the bill. With no Republicans voting for the legislation, Democrats need all their members to unite around it.
The House-passed version of the bill would provide $550 billion in climate-related spending, including $320 billion in new and extended clean energy tax credits and a consumer tax credit for electric vehicles.
It would also create a new climate conservation corps program to spur entry-level jobs in conservation and climate resiliency work and make changes to federal oil and gas policy.
With negotiations continuing among the White House, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Schatz said the senators could not yet say what climate provisions would be part of a reworked bill.
“We’re starting to arrive at a package that can include 50-plus-one votes,” Schatz said on the call.
“Whether or not the package as we currently envision it will pass exactly as is, I think remains to be seen.”
Machin told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday he has not been involved in negotiations since his Fox News appearance.
Schatz declined to outline a timetable for a vote, but said Democrats would hold one when they’d garnered enough support to pass the bill.
Manchin has indicated the climate provisions of the proposal could still win his support. He told reporters on Tuesday that a standalone bill with the climate provisions of Build Back Better could be within reach, even though he has not discussed the larger bill with the White House since his statement.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat who, like Manchin, is often at odds with her party’s leadership, “has been nothing but supportive of the climate provisions” in the spending bill, Schatz said.
Smith said she agreed.
In a seeming reference to Manchin and Sinema, Heinrich said there was “more consensus, including with some of our more challenging colleagues,” on the climate provisions than on other parts of the bill.
Extreme weather motivates
The effects of climate are already apparent, underscoring the need for legislative action, Democrats on the call said.
Hickenlooper said Colorado’s recent Marshall Fire and other destructive wildfires in 2021 showed why addressing climate was so urgent.
“We’re facing having to go through this again and again across the country,” Hickenlooper said. “And it is ridiculous that we still are willing to avoid what is a scientific truth… and turn away and subject cities and towns and communities all across this country to the same agony the Marshall Fire has caused over these holidays.”
Heinrich said dying cottonwood trees and a drought-strained Rio Grande in his home state are other examples.
Sea-level rise and hurricanes threaten coastal communities, including homes, livelihoods and military assets in Virginia, McEachin said. Severe weather and environmental damage hurts low-income and minority communities hardest, he said.
“These vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted by climate change and long standing environmental injustices,” he said.
Schatz said the Democrats were confident they would pass climate legislation because they viewed it as urgent.
“All options are on the table because of our collective determination,” he said. “We are going to get this done, come hell or high water. And right now, we have hell and high water.”
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