Biden heads into international climate negotiations with a weak hand

“The US has a singular responsibility to lead: It is second in global climate pollution after China, but far and away responsible for the largest share of cumulative emissions. Since 1850, the US has released a fifth of all carbon emissions, far ahead of every other country, according to an analysis by the research group Carbon Brief.

But US political polarization remains one of the biggest obstacles to global action. The US has never come to an international conference with a comprehensive climate agenda backed by Congress, mostly because Republican lawmakers have refused to negotiate on a serious action plan. So Democrats have banked on passing Biden’s climate plans in the Build Back Better agenda with a simple Senate majority. Their bet on reconciliation has put a good portion of Biden’s climate agenda in the hands of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who is personally invested in the coal industry.

Biden brings a mixed bag of promises to Glasgow. The administration does not have a signed, final law from Congress that backs up his words with billions of dollars in funding. What he has are ambitious promises of slashing pollution in half by 2030, quadrupling international aid, and helping countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. Most of that will depend on Congress following through, and a successful regulatory agenda that survives Supreme Court scrutiny.”

An “attack on American cities” is freezing climate action in its tracks

“While many answers to climate change require national and even international action, cities often have the unilateral power to craft local rules like building codes. But before the city of Tucson could even look at possible building reforms, the Republican-led state legislature took away its power to do so — by passing a state law that natural gas utilities are “not subject to further regulation by a municipality.”

Supporters of the Republican bill were trying to beat climate advocates to the punch and “preempt” restrictions on fossil fuels. “We wanted to get ahead of what we viewed as an economically damaging trend, and stop it before it could gain a foothold here,” says Garrick Taylor, a spokesperson for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the lobbying groups that supported the bill.

With those few lines of text, Arizona blocked a path for cleaning up a significant source of Tucson’s climate pollution — even as nations around the world are racing to transition to cleaner energy and slow disastrous climate change.”

“Arizona was the first of many US states where “localities are cut off at the knees, because they’re in states where lawmakers are hostile” to these kinds of climate regulations, says Sheila Foster, a Georgetown University professor who specializes in urban environmental law.

Interest groups for the natural gas industry, worried about losing energy customers, have now promoted bills in half the country to strip cities of basic powers to set greener building codes and help phase out fossil-fuel pollution. These “preemption” laws have swept through 20 state legislatures; three more states have bills pending this year.”

The US is inching closer to passing a game-changing climate policy

“A time when the United States runs mostly on wind- and solar-powered electricity could be a reality in only a few years. It wouldn’t require any scientific breakthroughs or technological leaps for clean energy to overtake coal and natural gas, which still dominate 60 percent of the US power sector. What it would take to challenge a century of fossil-fuel dominance in record-breaking time is one sweeping, underappreciated policy: a clean electricity standard.”

“A clean electricity standard is a bit of a misnomer because the actual policy being discussed is even more boring-sounding: a clean electricity payment program that pays utilities to clean up their act and fine them for missing deadlines. Still, this approach could effectively double the amount of wind and solar on the market, moving the nation toward roughly 80 percent renewable sources of electricity by 2030, and within reach of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. It’s critical to getting the US halfway to Biden’s pledge under the Paris climate agreement.”

“Two of the biggest ways Americans contribute to climate change is in their transportation and electricity usage. You might cut your carbon footprint by making your home more efficient, installing a solar panel, and even buying an electric car — and the power that flows from your outlet is a lot cleaner than it was a decade ago. But coal and natural gas, more often than not, are still the status quo. This reality limits the impact of well-meaning actions: A coal-fired power plant may be charging your Tesla, and gas might be powering your office’s air conditioning.”

“The biggest short-term benefits aren’t even about climate change. Continuing to cut coal also slashes the country’s air pollution, like the ozone and particulates that damage people’s lungs and hearts. These gains would easily dwarf what the Environmental Protection Agency has accomplished under previous presidents because it would close more coal-powered plants than even President Barack Obama’s most effective environmental regulation, the mercury and air toxins rule.
And then there are the lives saved, according to research from Harvard University: By 2030, the policy would save 9,200 lives because of the sudden cut in air pollution. Over the next 30 years, that number grows to 317,500 lives saved.”

This popular and proven climate policy should be at the top of Congress’s to-do list

“Over the past three decades, 30 states — red and blue alike — have passed laws requiring electric utilities to use more clean energy. Since 2015, 10 states have adopted 100 percent clean electricity standards, requiring the transition to fully 100 percent carbon-free power. And six more have committed to that goal. State laws are popping up so fast, it’s hard to keep track. Across the country, 170 cities have policies to get to 100 percent clean. As a result, more than one in three Americans already live in a place that’s committed to reaching 100 percent clean power.

We know this approach is technologically possible. Wind, solar, batteries, transmission lines, and other technologies can replace dirty fossil fuels. Google, one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, is aiming for 100 percent clean power, real-time at all its facilities by 2030.

With all this state and local leadership, it’s not surprising that this approach is popular with the public. In independent polls from both Data for Progress and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, run over the past few months, more than two-thirds of voters support the federal government moving the country to 100 percent clean power by 2035.

And once we implement this policy nationally, it should stay popular because clean energy saves customers money.”

“Many utilities continue to operate old, uneconomic coal plants. In just three years, these plants cost customers an additional $3.5 billion to keep open — and that’s before we add in all the extra hospital bills for folks breathing in their pollution day after day. Or the cost of destabilizing our climate. Replacing these dirty plants with clean power is not only good for our health; it’s also good for our wallets.”

“In our research for our report, we spent months talking with congressional offices, parliamentary experts, think tanks, climate advocates, and others, and have concluded that it is possible to pass a CES through the budget reconciliation process. In our report, we identify several ways a CES can fit with the Byrd Rule.”

The megadrought parching 77 percent of the Western US, explained

“Over the past year, the drought has been building due to a lack of rain, a weak summer monsoon in the Southwest, and intense summer heat waves. “If I had to pinpoint one thing that really drove the drought to where we are right now, it was the heat of last summer,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the University of Nebraska’s National Drought Mitigation Center.

High summer temperatures sucked the moisture out of the soil and evaporated water resources.

The Four Corners, where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet, has been the epicenter of this drought, Fuchs said. The dark splotch on the map below shows that those states as well as Nevada have been experiencing the most intense drought.”