WASHINGTON – Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who started her political career with the Green Party and raised alarm over global warming, wants to cut climate programs by at least $ 100 billion as part of ‘major legislation pending on Capitol Hill, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Sinema is one of two centrist Democrats in the Senate whose votes are critical to the passage of two bills that together would constitute President Biden’s legislative agenda: a $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill. and a separate $ 3.5 trillion budget bill.
Last month, Ms. Sinema told The Arizona Republic, “We know that climate change is costing the people of Arizona. And right now, we have the opportunity to adopt smart policies to address it – pending that. When she ran for the Senate in 2018, Ms. Sinema was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters. And she has expressed interest in using the spending bill to enact a tax or charge on carbon dioxide pollution, which experts say could be one of the most effective ways to mitigate the global warming.
But Ms Sinema’s demand to cut spending on climate provisions in the budget bill could force Democrats to cut or cut programs designed to help poor communities adapt to climate change as well as to help businesses. to adapt as the economy shifts from fossil fuels to clean energy. .
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted in a letter to her colleagues this week that climate programs will be maintained. “The climate crisis is a health issue, an employment issue, a national security issue and a moral issue to pass the planet on to future generations responsibly,” Ms. Pelosi wrote. “This challenge must be met with justice for vulnerable communities, who have been the first and hardest hit by the climate crisis. “
A spokesperson for Ms Sinema, John LaBombard, wrote in an email: “Given the size and scope of the budget reconciliation proposal – and the lack of detailed legislative language, or even consensus between the Senate and House around several provisions – we are not offering detailed comments on any proposed element of the package while these discussions are ongoing.
Ms Sinema’s call to cut climate spending comes as Democrats look for ways to lower the price of the broader spending legislation from the $ 3.5 trillion originally envisioned by Mr Biden to around $ 2 trillion. dollars, in order to gain the support of Ms. Sinema and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, without whose votes the measure will not pass.
As Democrats attempt to take $ 1.5 trillion off the global bill, party leaders have pledged to protect at least two major climate change programs, which total about $ 450 billion.
The first, a $ 150 billion proposal known as the Clean Electricity Program, would reward electric utilities that switch from burning fossil fuels to wind, solar or nuclear power, and penalize companies that do not. do not. The second is a package of around $ 300 billion in tax incentives to increase the use of wind and solar power and electric vehicles.
Both of these programs could lead to significant reductions in the country’s global warming pollution and would quite possibly be the most significant climate action taken by the United States, analysts said.
But to lower the cost of the bill and appease Ms Sinema, Democrats could still slash or cut up to an additional $ 200 billion in several other climate programs.
“Almost any climate program that is not these two would be drastically reduced or cut entirely under these circumstances,” said John Coequyt, director of government affairs at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a research organization that focuses on relative policy. to climate change.
These could include a number of programs designed to help the poor adapt to the destructive effects of climate change, as well as $ 30 billion for a “green bank” to help communities finance the construction of solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations, and $ 30 billion to create a “Civilian Climate Corps” that would hire young adults to work in climate mitigation and adaptation, half of whom would come from communities of color.
Another possible competitor for the log could be a $ 10 billion program to help rural electric co-ops, which provide electricity to more than 40 million people in rural communities. The money is said to be aimed at mitigating price spikes these rural residents might see on their electricity bills as co-ops shift from buying coal-fired electricity to wind and solar. Other potential cuts could include a $ 13 billion program to build new electric vehicle charging stations, including $ 1 billion to ensure these stations are built in low-income areas.
“In the absence of such programs, the economic transition to different energy sources will be less uniform and equitable,” Coequyt said. “There will be communities that cannot take advantage of new technologies for a whole bunch of different reasons. “
Cutting aid to local communities would also undermine popular support for a transition to a clean energy economy, experts say. “Some of the programs aimed at reaching rural and low-income communities are really important in keeping the political coalition there,” said Dallas Burtraw, analyst for Resources for the Future, a non-partisan energy-focused research organization. and the environment. Politics. “It could be both an economic and a political problem if these communities are left behind. “
Arizona scientists and environmental activists say the cuts would end up hurting Ms. Sinema’s voters.
As one of the hottest and driest states in the country, Arizona is already at the forefront of extreme weather conditions that scientists say is made worse by global warming. Arizona is in the throes of a mega-drought that has lasted for decades, with 95 percent of the state experiencing severe drought conditions. Since 2012, the state has suffered five drought episodes that have caused a total of $ 22.1 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year alone, about half a million acres of the state were consumed by wildfires, yet many communities were also inundated by the monsoons. Across Arizona, there were a record 522 heat-related deaths in 2020, according to the state.
“Annual average temperatures in Arizona have already risen a few degrees due to climate change, which may not seem like much, but it has increased heat waves and droughts, it has reduced the snowpack which is essential to our supply of snow. water, and flowing in waterways that are important to the health of wildlife, which is important to our ranchers and farmers, ”said Gregg Garfin, climatologist at the University of Arizona.
Arizona needs federal help to fight a warmer climate, he said. “We need manpower,” Garfin said. “We need funding. Many communities in Arizona do not have the budget or the expertise to do this. It takes real money. And that’s super important for Arizona.
Poor and minority communities, which are disproportionately affected by climate change, must be included in any government plan, said Vianey Olivarria, director of Chispa Arizona, the state arm of the League of Conservation Voters. “There is no way to have a climate action plan without environmental justice,” she said.
Democrats at the forefront of promoting climate action say none of the policies can be spared.
“We cannot cut climate finance in this package. It would go back on the promise made to voters, to young people, to American workers who don’t want to be left behind, ”said Senator Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “We absolutely need a strong civilian climate body that will inspire a new generation of young Americans. We need a strong green climate bank that will free up for every dollar spent, seven to ten dollars of private sector investment. It’s a very smart way to make sure that every small town, small town housing authority, small business, can access the capital they need to make this transition.