If you are concerned about the environment and are celebrating the Schumer-Manchin “compromise” bill, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday, may I suggest you blow out the candles on the cake.
I hate that it’s raining on your parade, but the bottom line is that it won’t do much to avert the environmental disaster we’re heading towards.
Let’s review some of the “highlights”.
The cost of the legislation originally recommended by Biden was $3.5 trillion. The Schumer-Manchin “compromise package” provides only $369 billion – compared to the proposed $555 billion – for climate change and energy security. It’s not a compromise; a more apt description, for me, is ‘surrender’ – to Manchin.
We’re going to ignore what was removed from the bill, called the Cut Inflation Act of 2022, and the non-climate provisions, and focus on what it offers as a solution to the existential threat. that weighs on the planet.
Most important is the goal – note the word “goal” – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by about 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. This breaks a promise made by President Biden during the campaign to cut emissions by 50%.
The bill allows more drilling for fossil fuels on public lands. Barely good for the environment and also breaks another promise Biden made not to expand drilling on public lands.
Then there are stipulations to promote electric cars and solar power. Both, however, have environmental fallout.
Electric car batteries require nickel and lithium. Mining companies are destroying some of the most pristine terrain and wilderness on the planet to meet the demand for nickel and lithium.
As for solar energy: it requires huge tracts of land, invading wildlife habitats and causing danger to birds.
Former nuclear power plants must benefit from tax credits to meet energy demand. The problem: disposal. There is now a quarter of a million metric tons of highly radioactive waste stored worldwide with 90 metric tons in the United States alone. The waste remains active for thousands of years. Nobody knows what to do with it.
Regarding methane emissions, the bill does not provide for a reduction in this gas, which represents 14% of greenhouse gas emissions. Its warming potential is 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Instead, under the bill, companies would be charged $900 per ton for methane emissions and $1,500 over two years.
To be fair, the legislation provides tax credits for a program called “direct air capture”. This very expensive process captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and buries it in the ground where, according to scientists, it turns to stone. But it eliminates emissions, not just reduces them. The bill increases credits for capturing carbon dioxide to $150 per tonne, up from $50 per tonne.
A final point: a large part of the bill provides tax credits for remedial measures to be taken by private industry. There is no guarantee that even with tax advantages, private industry will react.
Now for the politics. The media, en masse, reported that Manchin’s agreement to this bill reflected a reversal on his part. Eh? He got just about everything he could have wished for.
The initial proposal called for an expenditure of $3.5 trillion. He had it reduced to just $369 billion for environmental protection. Read those numbers again. He wanted to drill on public land. He got it. He secured funds for a gas pipeline that will help West Virginia, his home state. (Manchin received $331,000 in contributions from gas pipeline companies this year, compared to just $20,000 in 2020, while Schumer received $281,000, according to news reports).
It allows coal and gas-fired power plants to continue operating albeit at lower emission levels.
If there was a reversal, it came from Biden, Schumer and the Democrats who signed on.
Overall, it’s troubling that we keep talking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions when we should be adopting programs to eliminate them (as in direct air capture).
As I wrote in a recent book I published on the environment: if I pour water into a glass at the rate of one inch per hour and then reduce it to half an inch per hour – 50% – the glass will always fill. It would just take a little longer.
However, here is a much bigger problem: the whole world, including participants in the 26 international summits that have taken place, has accepted the goal of preventing temperatures from rising above 1.5 Celsius (2, 7 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels.
But, and this is a huge, huge but, we are already experiencing catastrophic storms, floods, out of control wildfires, rising seas and more. an increase of just over 1 Celsius (about 1.8 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.
So how will the world be helped by another 0.4 Celsius increase?
In my research, I asked this question in an e-mail to the United Nations under whose auspices the international summit meetings on the environment are held. Here is the response I received from the UN press section:
“It is the parties who decide on the objectives and arrangements [of the various agreements.] The UN Secretariat is dedicated to supporting the intergovernmental negotiation process on climate change. Thus, we are unable to provide an adequate response on behalf of the Parties to the Convention.
No, there is nothing wrong with your reading skills. I didn’t understand the answer either.
The fact is that the whole world has accepted that we cannot avoid higher temperatures because, as some have told me, the increase is already “prepared”. We can’t do anything about it. Result: things will get worse. Indeed, many scientists believe we will achieve temperature increases of 2.0 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) or even more.
The legislation Biden signed may be “historic” and the most comprehensive climate change legislation ever passed by the United States, but it falls far short of what is needed. We confuse a political victory — Democrats sticking together to defeat Republicans — rather than focus on substance.
Enthusiastic about the bill, Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE), called it a “down payment” to tackle climate change. OK, I’ll buy this. I don’t want to be a complete mercenary.
One last (lamentable) point: the United States is only responsible for 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. So even Bill succeeds in achieving all of its goals, unless the rest of the world follows suit, well…
So if you’re still into celebrating, do it with just a cupcake and a single candle.
Oakland County resident Berl Falbaum is a veteran political journalist and author of 12 books.