You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. Although one of the more cynical phrases ever uttered by a politician, the pilfered phrase[i] of the former mayor of Chicago and Obama adviser are also among the most honest.
The COVID-19 contagion is proving no exception to the Emanuel rubric. Over the past several months, Republicans and Democrats have attempted to use the pandemic to political advantage—not just as it applies to healthcare but as it pertains to other issues of the day. Within their statements and acts can be found messages—some subtle, some not—of their intentions towards climate change in the post-pandemic period.
In what can only be called “remarkable,” a deeply divided Congress and antagonistic White House were able to come to agreements on four pandemic-related pieces of legislation—culminating with the CARES Act. A repeat of such cordial cooperation is unlikely going forward. With the national election less than six months away, the gloves and masks are coming off as old positions are being defended and contentious new ones staked.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The thousand words of the lead image have to do with how differently Democrats and Republicans in Congress view the relationship of the current coronavirus contagion and the other great existential threat to the nation—climate change. Their opposing views are again coming into focus as debates over the next rounds of stimulus legislation break out on Capitol Hill. Their differences are as stark as that between someone sees a rabbit instead of a duck in the drawing.
Congressional Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and leading conservative groups like the Heartland Institute gesture to today's empty streets, idled factories, and historically high unemployment rates, and ask Is the Coronavirus Lockdown the Future Environmentalists Want? They look up to the clearest skies in a generation—temporarily bereft of visible pollution and airplanes—and say the price is just too high!
The view across the aisle is predictably different. Congressional Democrats and climate activists point to the administration's haphazard response to the COVID-19 contagion and the blocks-long lines at community food banks and say--this is what happens when the nation's leaders ignore the scientists and fail to plan for existential threats! They look up at the clearest skies in a generation and advocate investing in low-carbon technologies and community resilience and adaptation measures as both the way to get America working again and rise to meet the threat of global warming.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump administration continues to disregard science by sharply cutting the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards negotiated by the Obama administration. The rollback is both the most impactful and heedless environmental deregulation of Trump's presidency.
The cuts are the most impactful because the transportation sector is the single greatest source of the greenhouse gases (GHGs)responsible for Earth's warming, e.g., CO2. They are heedless because the action exceeds a target the auto industry has readily admitted they are prepared to meet. Worst of all, the rollback maintains the element markets most abhor--uncertainty.
The Trump administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule requires automakers to increase fleet efficiencies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 percent a year through model year 2026. An amount roughly equal to 40 miles per gallon (mpg). This as compared to the five (5) percent year-over-year increase mandated by the Obama administration. The 5 percent target is roughly equal to 54 mpg[i].
Initially, the administration had proposed freezing the CAFE standard at the 2020 level of 41+/- mpg. Why it adopted the slightly more stringent standard in its final order is not entirely clear. Trump and company may believe the bump-up will protect them in court as it gives the appearance of heeding the warnings of peer-reviewed climate studies. Given three years of conservative judicial appointments—including two Supreme Court justices—they may be right.
This country was founded by geniuses, but it's being run by a bunch of idiots.
Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA)
Quickly now, when I say coronavirus pandemic and a federal response, what's the first thing that pops into your head? I bet whatever it was didn't have anything to do with climate change.
Well, think again—as I try to explain why Democrats and the clean energy and climate defense sectors proposed a series of climate-related initiatives as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the Cares Act or Act) which will be signed into law within days. The connection between climate change and stimulus legislation intended to respond to the coronavirus pandemic is not as tenuous as it might seem at first blush.
Greening the stimulus bill was neither the first nor only matter to which Democrats turned their Cares Act attention. They thought the original sum proposed by the White House--$850 million—was not nearly enough to accomplish the immediate tasks at hand, e.g., protecting workers who were losing their livelihoods and providing funds to hospital for needed equip-ment and protective gear. Moreover, they wanted to prevent companies receiving assistance from using federal dollars to buy back company stock or to pay multi-million dollar executive salaries.
The green initiatives Democrats in Congress talked about for inclusion in the Act were an extension of the solar and wind energy tax credits, turning the tax credits into direct payments, and making economic assistance to the airline industry contingent on its lowering its carbon emissions by 2050. The proposals did not make it into the final bill; however, we've not heard the last of them.
Politics is not a game for the faint of heart.
It’s said that if you want a friend in Washington--
buy a dog. It’s best to buy one willing to hunt.
These are trying times. For Bernie Sanders, they may be the most trying of his political career.
The Vermont senator is said to be considering whether to stay in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. After Tuesday’s losses in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, it’s a race all but impossible for him to win.
Pressure to retire from the field of competition, before the next round of primaries in April, is predictably being brought to bear on Sanders by a host of Democrats with one thing on their minds—getting behind a single candidate and focusing all their resources and efforts on the defeat of Donald Trump.
As he did following his wins the week before, Biden reached out to Sanders’s supporters after his victories in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona--
Let me say especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you.
Senator Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision - for the need to provide affordable healthcare for all Americans, reduce income inequity that has risen so drastically, to tackling the existential threat of our time - climate change.
In a brief statement that sounded more like a negotiating tactic than a concession speech, Senator Bernie Sanders announced he's staying in the race for the Democratic nomination for president—at least for a few more days. The statement followed bruising primary losses in states like Michigan, Texas, and Virginia that he needed to win to prove his electability.
Sanders qualified his remaining in the race at least through the head-to-head debate with former Vice President Biden scheduled for Sunday, March 15th. The debate is in advance of the St. Patrick's Day primaries in four states critical to a Democratic victory in November. Together, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, account for 577 delegates—over a quarter of the 1991 votes needed to win the nomination on the first ballot.
The Senator has no illusions about his probable defeat at the hands of Biden and the Democratic establishment. His willingness to engage Biden in the Sunday debate and forewarn him of what he intends to debate him about is, for all intents and purpose, an attempt to negotiate consolation prizes for the progressive wing of the Democratic party in a very public forum.
Sanders is right--he will never be in a better position to impact the Democratic platform on which Biden and the party will run in the 2020 elections. Although Sanders's socialist democratic agenda should find favor in each of the four upcoming primary states because of demograph-ics, he handily lost to Clinton in all of them in 2016.
The Republic died today. Or maybe yesterday, I can’t be sure[i]. I had thought that the U.S. was going to be able to survive the reign of Donald Trump. Now, I wonder.
What changed my mind was the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of the House Committee on the Judiciary v. Donald F. McGahn, II (House v. McGahn or McGahn). The facts of the case are straightforward.
McGahn, a former White House counsel, was ordered by Trump not to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the matter of Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential election and the Special Counsel’s findings of fact concerning potential obstruction of justice by the President. (emphasis added)
The Committee, after months of negotiations, subpoenaed McGahn, who continued his refusal. The Judiciary Committee petitioned the U.S. District Court of D.C. to compel McGahn’s appearance.
The administration argued in court that a duly authorized committee of Congress acting on behalf of the House of Representatives could not invoke judicial process to compel the appearance of senior-level aides of the President to receive sworn testimony.
The administration further maintained that a federal court cannot exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over any such subpoena-related stalemate between the Legislature and the Executive branch, on separation of powers grounds. (emphasis added)
The establishment, which I guess I’m a part…knows as much about electability as a donkey knows about calculus. We always get it wrong. . .The voters are going to tell us who’s electable.
— Steve Rosenthal
History will recall that 2020 was the year climate issues finally mattered enough to voters to guide their hands when it came time to mark their ballots. Will history also record that the 2020 election resulted in the break-up of the Democratic party and that an underlying cause of the separation was the rise of the youth climate movement around the Green New Deal (GND)?
The battle for the Democratic nomination is a battle for the party itself, and it’s something of an age thing--OK? Ironically, a septuagenarian piper is at the forefront of a generational change in Democratic politics, while a 38-year-old former mayor is a moderate whose policy positions are more in keeping with the Democratic establishment. In between are a couple of billionaires, two senators, and a former vice president.
Unlike the 2016 election, climate change has become a prominent and distinguishing feature of the Democratic party’s message to voters. Although differing in degrees, every contender for the Democratic nomination has made the defense of the environment and the transition to a low-carbon economy a priority—one they vow to act on from their first day in office to their last.
House Minority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) has gone on record warning conservative Republicans that they are in danger of losing the support of voters under the age of 35 over the issue of climate change. To counter the Democrat’s talk of the Green New Deal and the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act released by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Minority Leader called upon Republican House members to show they too care about the future of the planet by introducing their own brand of climate-related legislation.
The first tranche of McCarthy’s promised legislation has now been announced. Although modest by comparison to the magnitude of the problem and the Democrats’ CLEAN Future Act, the mere mention that Earth’s warming poses a problem is extraordinary given the denialist position of McCarthy and other Congressional conservatives just a few short months ago.
McCarthy and several House Republicans have led off their defense of the environment with a suite of proposals focused on carbon capture. Carbon capture is a natural or artificial process by which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.
History is likely to show that 2020 is the year climate issues finally mattered enough to voters to guide their hands when it came time to mark their ballots.
Recognizing that it is no longer prudent or wise to continue playing the denial card Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been attempting to bring House Republicans in from the cold on climate change. It appears that his closed-door discussions with certain members of the caucus have begun to pay dividends. The Minority Leader, along with allies like Represent-atives Graves (R-LA) and Westerman (R-AR), is promising to release a Republican strategy for responding to the climate crisis over the next several weeks.
McCarthy’s change of heart is most likely attributable to polling numbers that show Republicans vulnerable on climate matters than to a sudden immaculate conversion. His pitch to colleagues has been “for a 28-year old, the environment is the Number 1 and Number 2 issue.” There are hard numbers behind the claim.
Frank Luntz, a well-respected Republican pollster, circulated a memo to congressional Republicans last summer telling them that 55 percent of young GOP voters are very or extremely concerned about the party’s position on climate change. Luntz also noted that 69 percent of all GOP voters are concerned that the party's stance is “hurting itself with younger voters.”
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.