News Brief: Senate to act ‘forcefully, relentlessly’ on climate

This week, the Democrats took control of Senate committees, after an organizing agreement was reached between Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY). Senate Committees have been directed to begin working on climate-related hearings and legislation across all areas of responsibility. 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on the floor of the Senate: 

I have already instructed the incoming Democratic chairs of committees to begin holding hearings on the climate crisis, in preparation for enacting President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which includes major climate legislation…

Schumer added that the Senate would now ”forcefully, relentlessly and urgently address climate change, in all the relevant committees.”

What does this mean for US climate preparedness and response?

Last week on Earth Intelligence, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe explained that climate change is an “everything problem—affecting all humanitarian crises and issues” that we face. President Biden’s “whole of government” approach to climate response recognizes that this isn’t just about the business practices of energy companies, or where investors put their money, or whether we travel by air or what kind of car we drive. 

All of human experience is touched by climate change, so every Senate committee is going to look at how it can best serve the American people by reducing the risk of future climate shocks. This work will cover issues as diverse as: 

  • Funding for science, research, and planning
  • Coastal resilience  
  • Agriculture and food systems
  • Economics optimized to the 21st century 
  • Energy production, management, and distribution
  • Energy efficient building practices 
  • Transport and related infrastructure 
  • Limiting emissions from vehicles, industry, and from mineral extractive processes

And, there will be carbon pricing proposals, to reduce the cost and speed the process of the energy transition. If these policies are well designed, to put the wellbeing of people ahead of the self-interest of polluting industries, they will rapidly reduce emissions while also making the US economy more innovative and stronger.

Outside of government, the private sector and local communities are racing ahead, making sure they’re on the right side of the climate struggle. Joe Robertson notes: 

The people that are racing ahead are the ones that have figured out how they can build a better future.

Don asks the complicating question: The Democratic and Republican Parties both hold 50 seats in the Senate; the Democrats have the majority because the Constitution makes Vice President Harris the tie-breaking vote. Does this mean Democrats need to make a special effort to court West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin? 

Of course Democrats need Sen. Manchin’s support. He is critical to holding their majority. And of course West Virginia’s politics are impacted by a high concentration of coal industry activity there. But that doesn’t mean protecting the coal industry. Coal development can be a trap, allowing only one kind of economy, until the towns are abandoned by companies that no longer need them. 

Coal communities need to diversify their economies, and protect the health and wellbeing of people who live there. Building smart, sustainable economies should make life better for people, even in communities that have long been bound to coal. 

The opposition to climate solutions is also fading. Just this week, major oil companies that once seemed invincible reported record losses, while some announced new climate-friendly investments, amid rising pressure to boost climate expertise and innovation. 

Joe notes that the US is going to be stronger for boosting climate action on all fronts, and:

The fossil fuel companies that survive in 2035 or 2040 will no longer be majority fossil fuel companies; the majority of their enterprise will be coming from something else.

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