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Clean Power

The Catharsis Of US Climate Action Legislation

US agencies are meeting expectations to release a slew of rules aimed at tightening reporting and procedural requirements to reduce national emissions. Several have made the news over the last week.

Climate action legislation consists of the laws and policies that govern action on climate change by setting its legal basis. Falling under the scope of climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management, these laws and policies can apply across different sectors or focus on one, such as agriculture, land use, transport, energy, waste, environment, tourism, industry, buildings, water, and health.

US President Joe Biden has indicated his administration is committed to meeting the urgent threat of climate change while empowering US workers and businesses to drive the nation toward a clean energy future. Biden has reiterated his goal to reach 100% clean electricity by 2035 and signed many executive orders to that end, including the requirement for federal agencies to procure 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030. Let’s check some of those recent orders as well as responses from constituent groups.

Power Plants Must Reduce GHG Pollution, Says Biden Administration

The Biden administration on Thursday announced the first regulations to limit GHG pollution from existing power plants. The New York Times calls these the “toughest-ever limits on emissions from gas and coal power plants.” The regulations are another part of the administration’s climate action legislation agenda, the sum of which is designed to deliver a “moral imperative” to nearly eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s electricity sector by 2040. By setting caps on pollution rates, power plant operators would have to meet maximum goals by utilizing a different technology which does not emit carbon.

EPA officials say the proposed regulations are designed to offer flexibility to industry. For example, coal plants that are already scheduled to retire before 2032 may not have to install new pollution controls like carbon capture technology. About a quarter of operating coal-fired power plants are already scheduled to retire by 2029, according to the Energy Information Administration. The nation’s 3,400 coal- and gas-fired power plants currently generate about 25% of greenhouse gases produced by the US, pollution that is dangerously heating the planet.

“The EPA did exactly what the Supreme Court told it to do,” Jay Duffy, the Clean Air Task Force’s litigation director, described. “Such that the power sector can provide low emission, reliable, and affordable electricity.”

Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who has opposed many of his party’s climate policies, said Wednesday that he would oppose all of President Biden’s nominees to the EPA unless his administration dropped the regulation. If the standards are not finalized by the start of summer 2024, Republicans and colleagues like Manchin could try to overturn the plan using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to repeal recent regulations.

Biden is sure to veto a resolution to repeal the plan if it reaches his desk.

The Need to Expedite Deployment of Interstate & Offshore Electric Transmission Lines

Bipartisan permitting legislation should provide greater authorities for siting of electric transmission lines and accelerate energy project permitting on federal lands, the White House said in a plan outlining its priorities.

As Congress considers multiple proposals for the long-sought overhaul of the federal process of permitting for energy and other large projects, the White House said in its plan that any legislation should also include changes to “outdated” mining laws and additional resources to improve data gathering.

The White House Fact Sheet, dated May 10, refers to the need to build clean energy projects in the US at the speed and scale needed to adequately address the climate crisis. It requires strategic reforms that improve the way such projects are sited and permitted at the federal, state and local levels. The Administration is acting to move projects forward, using its existing authority to accelerate the federal permitting process.

Speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center, senior advisor John Podesta said that the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure is “plagued by delays and bottlenecks.” Describing delays as “pervasive at every level of government — federal, state and local,” Podesta exclaimed that “we got so good at stopping projects that we forgot how to build things in America.”

The White House says any bipartisan legislative package to overhaul the process should include provisions that would provide electric transmission siting and cost allocations that would expedite the deployment of both interstate and offshore lines. It also called for Congress to require the consideration of economic, environmental and reliability costs and benefits during interregional transmission planning.

 The Boomers Speak out about Climate Action Legislation

Third Act, in a recent email blast, warns that Republicans are holding the entire economy hostage unless Congress cuts the popular funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. Such a legacy is serious for Republicans at a time in which wildfires and floods are destroying homes. Even though President Biden invited Congressional leaders from both parties to come to the White House and negotiate, they haven’t reached a deal.

Third Act declares that, instead, Republicans are pushing through their “polluter’s wish list” in exchange for voting to raise the debt ceiling. Third Act claims that Republicans have already tried and failed to get their polluter giveaway bill written into law in February.

Now they’re bringing it back with even more demands for budget cuts to vital programs, like:

  • clean energy incentives
  • adoption of clean energy building code
  • grants to reduce climate pollution
  • tax credits for used electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar rooftops, and clean energy storage

“They’re risking a financial default as soon as June 1,” Third Act states, “so they can try to ram through proposals that would harm people, communities, and the country at every conceivable level.”

Senator Whitehouse Says that Climate Change Has “Potentially Catastrophic Risks”

US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chair of the US Senate Budget Committee, is known for having an educational bent. This week it was a speech titled, “Lessons Learned: Leadership Perspectives and Experience on the National Costs of Climate Change.

As he welcomed all to the Budget Committee’s 8th hearing to examine the economic risks and budgetary costs associated with climate change, Whitehouse emphasized how potential future shocks to the economy have the potential to upend the most carefully laid fiscal plans. Even with increased revenues, reduced spending, and balancing the budget, “if the economy goes into a climate-driven crash,” massive budget deficits will reappear, he stated.

“Central bankers, economists, financial experts, real estate professionals, insurance CEOs, and academics,” he described, “are all warning of systemic risks to the economy from climate change. They are many — coastal and wildfire-area property value crashes, carbon bubble collapse, dislocation in insurance markets — and they are of the sort that could cost the economy trillions. We cannot separate our nation’s fiscal health from these looming and potentially catastrophic risks.”

With a politically conservative audience in mind, Whitehouse argued that there are market-based solutions available that align exactly with conservative economic principles. Noting that “climate change is a matter of physics, chemistry and economics, and not ideology or belief,” a common platform of fact can bring together fiscally-minded leaders. He cited US bipartisan achievements like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Montreal Protocol eliminating ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, and the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act to reinforce the premise that tackling climate change can be a bipartisan priority.

“We must find a path back to bipartisan work on climate,” Whitehouse pleaded. “If we are unable to come together at home to address a fundamentally non-ideological issue — the warming of our planet due to carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuel combustion — then our democracy is not functioning as it should. We owe it to our children — and the world — to get this right.”

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Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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