Sen. Bennet warns of ‘five-alarm crisis for the American West’

Placeholder while article actions load

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re reading about the debate over whether to have kids despite the climate crisis. But first:

Sen. Bennet warns of ‘five-alarm crisis for the American West’

Something will happen on Capitol Hill today for the first time since 2013.

No, the 117th Congress is not on track to be one of the least productive in the nation’s history, although its detractors can debate that point. Rather, the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources is holding its first hearing in nine years — and it’s zeroing in on a worsening crisis fueled by climate change.

The hearing, convened by Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), will examine the drought parching the American West, which scientists say has been turbocharged by rising global temperatures.

“This is a five-alarm crisis for the American West,” Bennet plans to say in his opening statement, which was exclusively provided to The Climate 202 ahead of the hearing.

“When hurricanes and other natural disasters strike the East Coast, or the Gulf states, Washington springs into action to protect those communities,” his statement says. “But we haven’t seen anything like that kind of response to the Western water crisis, even though its consequences are far more wide-reaching and sustained than any one natural disaster.”

The Climate 202 spoke with Bennet by phone yesterday about his hopes for the hearing, the possibility of bipartisan legislation to address the drought crisis, and the prospects for passing President Biden‘s climate and social spending plan before the August recess. 

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

Climate 202: Why is it important to hold this hearing?

Bennet: Well, I want to use the hearing to sound the alarm about the water crisis in the American West. The West hasn’t been this dry in 1,200 years, and more than 75 percent of the West is experiencing severe drought, which is threatening to put farmers and ranchers out of business. It’s threatening communities that rely on this water for their families and their livelihoods. And I don’t think that’s well understood in Washington.

This is our first hearing since 2013 and our first hearing since climate was explicitly added to the subcommittee’s purview. And I think doing it on Western water is a really appropriate way to kick things off.

Climate 202: Do you plan to highlight the link between the drought and climate change?

Bennet: The main reason why this drought is so severe is because of climate change. So I’m going to talk about the way that’s affecting the snowpack and the runoff and the water levels in our rivers. This is all related to climate. And I really worry that if we don’t act soon, the American West is going to be unrecognizable to our kids and our grandkids.

Colorado is literally being incinerated as a result of climate change. The day before New Year’s Eve, more than 1,000 families in Boulder lost their homes in a wildfire. And on another day last year, Utah and Colorado had the worst air quality in the world — not Beijing, not anywhere else, but in my state, which is heartbreaking. 

Climate 202: Last September, you floated the Colorado River with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to explore bipartisan solutions to the drought crisis. What are the prospects for bipartisan legislation to address the issue in this Congress?

Bennet: I definitely think there’s going to have to be a bipartisan solution here at some point. Whether it’s this Congress or not, I wouldn’t want to predict. [Laughs]

Climate 202: Congress is currently starting the process of crafting another farm bill. Do you hope the next farm bill prioritizes climate change and water security?

Bennet: Yes. It’s really important for us to ensure that the farm bill makes investments in water resource conservation and addresses climate change. So I’m going to be looking at both of those things.

Climate 202: Are you optimistic that Senate Democrats can pass a budget-reconciliation package with robust climate investments before the August recess?

Bennet: I hope we can. We have a historic opportunity to act. There are important pieces of that legislation that are vital to conservation and forestry. But I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to get it over the finish line or not.

Exclusive: Clean energy investments could create more than 2 million jobs by 2050, report says

Large-scale decarbonization of the U.S. economy could create more than 2.2 million jobs by 2050, particularly if bold federal investments are made in clean energy, according to a report shared exclusively with The Climate 202 ahead of its formal release on Tuesday.

The report, which was conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Third Way and the Clean Air Task Force as part of the Decarb America research initiative, analyzed different policy and technical pathways toward achieving President Biden‘s goal of net-zero economywide emissions by mid-century.

While the authors projected job growth across all clean energy sectors analyzed, they found that the United States will probably see the most significant growth in the energy efficiency sector, which could account for 73 percent of total net job growth in 2023.

The report also concluded that as the country slashes emissions from transportation and adds more electric vehicles to the roads, it will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, particularly if the U.S. bolsters domestic supply chains and auto manufacturing.

Lindsey Walter, a co-author of the report and deputy director of Third Way’s climate and energy program, told The Climate 202 that the findings illustrate the need for Congress to pass the clean energy tax credits in Democrats’ stalled budget reconciliation bill.

“If we were to implement a robust tax package through reconciliation to start getting the U.S. on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050, then we would create at least half a million jobs by 2030,” Walter said. This, she added, “is a very compelling argument for why we should be investing in more clean energy.”

White House takes steps to calm turmoil in solar industry

The Biden administration on Monday moved to exempt the U.S. solar industry for the next two years from crushing tariffs on certain panels manufactured abroad, as the Commerce Department continues an investigation that has paralyzed much of the industry, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper reports. 

Along with the pause on tariffs, the White House also announced Monday that it will invoke the Defense Production Act to boost domestic clean energy companies, particularly the U.S. solar panel and cell manufacturers struggling to compete with Asian imports. 

On a call with reporters, administration officials said Commerce’s investigation, which carries the threat of retroactive tariffs, will continue without interference. Officials added that trade law allows the president to invoke emergency actions such as the temporary reprieve from tariffs.

However, some experts question whether Biden has that authority, and the move could be met with legal challenges and overturned in court.

Climate groups to spend $100 million on midterms

Six climate advocacy groups on Monday announced a first-of-its-kind coordinated push to spend $100 million on mobilizing voters around the climate crisis ahead of November’s midterm elections, CNN’s Ella Nilsen reports. 

The Climate Votes Project will rely on advertising campaigns and in-person field organizing to reach voters in battleground states such as Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia. The groups involved include the Climate Power Action PAC, Climate Reality Action Fund, EDF Action Votes, League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund, NRDC Action Votes and NextGen Pac

Group of 22 governors urges Congress to make climate investments

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of governors committed to the goals of the Paris agreement, is sending a letter to congressional leadership today calling for the swift passage of the climate and clean energy investments in President Biden‘s stalled budget reconciliation bill.

The group of 22 governors, which is composed of 21 Democrats and Republican Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, writes in the letter that state action alone is not enough to head off the effects of global warming or to reach the nation’s net-zero goals. Instead, the leaders argue that Congress must pass a robust climate package to back up their efforts. 

“We need major investment from Congress commensurate with the crisis we all face and the rapid transition we must all make,” the officials write in the letter, led by Democratic Govs. Jay Inslee of Washington, Gavin Newsom of California and Kathy Hochul of New York. “The U.S. House of Representatives previously approved a transformative $550 billion climate package for this purpose, and it is critical that any climate package include a similar level of funding.”

Cisneros asks for recount in Democratic primary runoff against Cuellar

Jessica Cisneros, a 29-year-old immigration attorney, will request a recount of votes in the runoff election between her and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), Mariana Alfaro and Felicia Sonmez report for The Post. 

“Our community isn’t done fighting, we are filing for a recount,” Cisneros said in a statement. “With just under 0.6 percent of the vote symbolizing such stark differences for the future in South Texas, I owe it to our community to see this through to the end.”

The race has major climate implications, as The Climate 202 previously reported.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *