Congressional Democrats have put on the back burner new climate change legislation to work around a recent Supreme Court ruling that dealt a major blow to President Biden‘s green agenda.
The lawmakers’ go-slow approach doesn’t sit well with environmentalists. They are calling for swift congressional action in the immediate aftermath of the ruling.
“It’s inconceivable. The EPA decision threw the door wide open for Democrats to step up and take the lead, to take bold climate action — yet they stay as unbold as ever,” said Kat Maier, national coordinator of Fridays for Future, the youth-led international climate group formed by activist Greta Thunberg.
The high court last month slashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate harmful emissions from power plants, a ruling that Democrats said they lack the bandwidth to address amid a crowded legislative calendar and a fast-approaching August recess and midterm elections.
The court ruled that the decades-old Clean Air Act does not permit the EPA to impose blanket carbon caps across the nation’s electricity producers.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer derided the decision but said there were no plans to respond legislatively. The Maryland Democrat expressed optimism that the EPA could use its existing power to still regulate emissions.
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In its ruling, the Supreme Court left room for the EPA to regulate utility companies on an individual basis. Restoring the agency’s broader regulatory authority to set industry-wide standards would require an act of Congress.
“They’re not without power,” Mr. Hoyer said. “They themselves administratively can move forward.”
Senate Democrats also are not teeing up legislation, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, said he’s directed his staff to explore any potential solutions or silver linings.
As of yet, they haven’t put anything forward.
Rep. Jared Huffman, a progressive leader on environmental issues, said it would be “ill-advised” to open a climate-change can of worms ahead of the November elections and with such a slim Democratic majority in Congress.
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“If you open up the Clean Air Act with this Congress, and especially with this Senate, you’re going to make it a lot worse,” said Mr. Huffman, California Democrat. “I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that we have the numbers, or the politics, right now to do that.”
For the party’s liberal base, it sounds like nothing but excuses.
JL Andrepont, a senior policy campaigner and policy analyst at the international environmental organization 350.org, expected more from the Democratic Party.
“We’re having to do a lot of walking and chewing gum at the same time. We expect congressional Democrats to do the same,” said Andrepont.
Instead of legislative action, Democrats argued the best long-term solution to returning power to the EPA and combating climate change is in the hands of voters this fall.
“The answer is to elect people who share those views — who turn out are Democrats — and enact statutes that protect those freedoms,” said Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat.
There are other potential avenues for at least minor climate action, according to some Democratic lawmakers.
Rep. Jason Crow, Colorado Democrat, cited ongoing talks on the annual National Defense Authorization Act. He noted proposed items to help the Pentagon slash its massive carbon footprint and transition to renewable energy.
The military is considered the globe’s single largest consumer of fossil fuels, and the Pentagon has warned in recent years that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.”
Democrats also hope to get some climate change measures into a party-line spending bill, known as a budget reconciliation bill. However, divisions among Senate Democrats make it unlikely they can pass a major climate initiative.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin III are in the midst of monthslong negotiations to reach a deal on the special tax and spending measure. Mr. Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, tanked Mr. Biden‘s roughly $2 trillion climate and social spending package last year over inflation concerns. The same concerns persist and again threaten the current $1 trillion package.
Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, is working with Mr. Manchin to strike a deal and send Mr. Biden a win before the November midterm elections.
All 50 Senate Democrats need to be on board to pass the measure.