“Higher Ambition” For Climate Action, Post-Manchin, Looks To Locals

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Ignoring that the US is the second largest emitting country on Earth, Senator Joe Manchin (D-Coal) has stymied national climate action legislation single-handedly. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) charged Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Manchin is “intentionally sabotaging the president’s agenda.”

US President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (NY), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) have attempted polite, deferential, and collegial discussions with Manchin, hoping against hope that he would agree to watered-down climate proposals.

It’s been all for naught, and Biden’s Build Back Better program, decimated by Manchin, has prevented Democrats from achieving promised climate action agendas.

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After months of negotiations, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) exclaimed that Manchin’s decision was “nothing short of catastrophic.”

Bill McKibben of 350.org asserts that the Build Back Better bill was “ambitious” and “contained the most sweeping climate measures ever to reach the Senate floor.” He adds that another element of this legislative stalemate is “excruciating.” This is the 3rd time in the past 30 years that Congress has balked at serious climate legislation.

Manchin cleverly pitched hope and promise to promote a fossil fuel-friendly Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He pestered and harassed Biden, and Manchin’s doublespeak kept the President from availing himself of executive actions to block federal oil leases and pipelines.

The Biden administration’s goal to quickly reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is undone. Thanks a lot, Joe Manchin.

Activists Step Up Climate Awareness

Manchin’s recalcitrance refutes scientific evidence that human activities –primarily due to the human burning of fossil fuels — have warmed Earth’s surface and its ocean basins and have impacted Earth’s climate. Many environmentalists and Democrats have called upon the federal government to enact sweeping action to avert an existential disaster — unsuccessfully.

So close to success with Biden’s legislative agenda, groups like the Sunrise Movement, Earth Justice, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Green New Deal Network, Indivisible, and so many others now find themselves the voices of climate reason. Their fierce reaction to Manchin’s climate crisis ennui means that the climate fight now turns to state and local legislators, who must do the heavy lifting to reduce GHG emissions.

Hope springs eternal.

With Manchin’s mutiny, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has forecast that there will be a “higher ambition” for states and municipalities across the country to enact climate mitigation policies. “We should encourage those blue mayors to take the highest possible standard,” he said. He suggested that climate action would even be possible within red states. Predicting an ultimate win in the fight against climate change, Markey says that we must organize for bold climate action that matches the scale of the crisis.

Rob Schuwerk, executive director of Carbon Tracker, a think tank looking to align investors’ strategies to climate change action, told Bloomberg Green that at the state level, commissions that oversee utilities have the ability to influence policy by helping companies implement climate targets. Actions like that, he said, “have significant benefit if they’re implemented everywhere.”

The youth led Sunrise Movement is thinking locally. “We have to make the intentional decision to start building powerhouses locally across communities in this country,” said John Paul Mejia, national spokesperson for the group.

Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen Action, a climate lobbying group, decried Manchin’s “chaotic bad-faith agenda.” Raad said his organization is pushing for executive orders, but is also expanding its state-focused approach. “We now have a state policy director and a state campaigns director who is working directly with governors and groups like US Climate Alliance,” he said. “I think that investment will be more important now.”

Other groups see untapped opportunities to appeal to a broader base of voters on climate issues. “We know that black and brown folks care about the environment, but we also know that they have not been reached out to,” said Julio López Varona, co-chief of Campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a collective of community groups. López Varona is ready to change that dynamic.

Biden Will Enhance Climate Focused Executive Actions

RL Miller, political director of Climate Hawks Vote, looked back with frustration at the 18 months of failed environmental negotiations with Manchin, wondering if she and others pushing for legislation “frittered away our best chance to do something substantive on climate.”

In a July 15 statement, President Biden says he will turn to “strong executive action” to encourage a transition to clean energy.

“So let me be clear: if the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment. My actions will create jobs, improve our energy security, bolster domestic manufacturing and supply chains, protect us from oil and gas price hikes in the future, and address climate change. I will not back down: the opportunity to create jobs and build a clean energy future is too important to relent.”

Indeed, there are a number of federal actions that Biden can implement without Senate approval, like declaring a climate emergency and compelling strict regulations around coal- and gas-fired plants.

Some see Manchin’s hypocrisy as an opportunity to move forward with urgency. “Free at last. Let’s roll. Do it all and start it now,″ tweeted Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has long pushed stronger national action on climate and public awareness of climate “danger.”

“With legislative climate options now closed, it’s now time for executive Beast Mode.″ Optimistically, he continues to look to bipartisan Congressional climate action.

Final Thoughts on Moving Climate Action Forward

Climate change has been among the top priorities of the Biden administration, whose actions on the issue include rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and passage of an infrastructure bill with funding for renewable energy. Biden’s agenda, however, has stalled due to fossil fuel-influenced legislators, and a Supreme Court decision in June curtailed the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate power plant emissions.

To cities across the US, the climate crisis is tangible.

Perhaps climate action oppositionalists haven’t heard that cities across the country like Phoenix and LA are following the lead of Miami-Dade County, which created a chief heat officer position in April, 2021.

A July 14 Pew Research Center poll shows that the US public is divided on how to proceed forward to mitigate climate change.

  • 58% say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of global climate change.
  • 18% say it is doing too much.
  • 22% say it is doing about the right amount.
  • Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change: 82% vs. 28%.

One thing is certain: broad swatches of people in the US have experienced environmental problems in their local area. Until Congress moves ahead with bipartisan policies to confront the climate crisis, it will be up to state and local officials to confront the greatest challenge the world has ever experienced.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, 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 Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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