While the north of the United States is suffering from an all-time high, US President Biden is making no headway in the negotiations on the infrastructure package. The conservatives don’t want climate laws, the progressives are in combat mode. Time is running out.
Since weather records began in 1894, it has not been as hot in the American Northwest as it had been in previous days. The city of Portland recorded 44.4 degrees Celsius, Seattle 40 degrees, and other locations up to 48 degrees. The “millennium heat dome” let the entire US states of Oregon and Washington roast under the sun, as well as large parts of Nevada and California. The neighboring Canada even reported the highest temperature ever on its own territory: 46.7 degrees. And the northeast around New York is preparing for a similar heat wave.
In Seattle and in nearby Vancouver, Canada, the summers are otherwise completely harmless, the temperature is around 20 degrees. The houses are not designed to withstand the heat, so people buy air conditioning and power outages occur because of the increased energy demand. Those who can afford it rent an air-conditioned hotel room. Some communities are already building emergency shelters in gyms to help residents escape the heat.
While people are sweating, the sun is also destroying material: huge cracks burst open in a cement road; others have been completely closed because they have become impassable due to heat damage. In Portland, cables melted and trams stopped. With all of this, climate change becomes tangible in everyday life: it destroys infrastructure that was not made for it. Because of climate change, the global temperature has risen by 1.2 degrees so far. In the northwest of the USA it is up to 2.3 degrees more, by the year 2100 it could be 5.6 degrees according to forecasts. If nothing changes.
In Washington DC, US President Joe Biden has been negotiating a compromise on the infrastructure package with the Republicans for many weeks: The White House wants to whip up roads, bridges and much more, and originally wanted to convert this “American Jobs Plan” Push renewable energies on a broad front. Biden’s declared goal is to halve the country’s CO2 emissions compared to 2005 in the next nine years. Almost 80 percent of the energy in the US comes from gas, oil, and coal. The United States is the second largest polluter in the world after China. You could also say: you have your fate in your own hands.
Not brave enough?
Biden is a middle-class man, but with his desire for non-partisanship he is crammed between irreconcilable positions. On the one hand, the Republicans, who reject an infrastructure plan with climate projects. On the other, the progressive wing of their own party, the young face of the Democrats, whose most important champion is an old acquaintance: Senator Bernie Sanders. In order to pacify both, Biden has now divided the project into two smaller packages: one together with the Republicans, for the classic infrastructure; the other for projects aimed at the necessary restructuring of the economy.
Originally, the infrastructure package was $ 2.3 trillion over eight years. An additional $ 579 billion is foreseen in the compromise. The tax cuts introduced under Trump for companies and the rich will not be touched, for counter-financing, among other things, savings are to be made in unemployment insurance. Critics say the package is doomed to fail in practice.
The Democrats originally wanted to install a nationwide charging network for electromobility, introduce tax incentives for renewable energies, adapt the national power grid and promote building insulation. The heart of the measures was the “Clean Energy Standard”, which should oblige energy companies to gradually turn away from fossil fuels. According to Rhiana Gunn-Wright, one of the authors of the Green New Deal, on which the climate elements of the parallel project can be traced back, the original plan was already far too small. In order to achieve the stated goal – halving CO2 emissions by 2030 – it would take around $ 10 trillion from public investments, she told the New York Times.
A lot of pressure on the White House
The progressive wing of the Democrats sees the project in danger and at the same time sees the historic opportunity for more social justice in the country. Sanders has announced that he will no longer take part in the Republicans’ braking game: “There will be no bipartisan infrastructure package without another law that substantially improves the lives of working-class families and combats life-threatening climate change”, he wrote. “We need creative change NOW.”
Sanders doesn’t even need party support for his blockade. The Democrats only have a wafer-thin majority in the Senate, where every vote counts. A single Democratic Senator like him can fail a law. With this threat, the conservative Democrat Joe Manchin single-handedly pushed through changes to the major aid package a few months ago. Manchin is on the other side of the Democratic political spectrum. With him, a climate package should only be able to be made with concessions.
But even if all the necessary senators were satisfied: Both chambers of congress must approve legislative projects. Nancy Pelosi, the powerful Democratic group leader in the House of Representatives, publicly jumped aside Sanders. Without a climate package, they will block a vote in the Congress Chamber on infrastructure. With this, Pelosi increases the pressure on the White House and puts Biden in a mess.
In any case, the following applies in US politics: the longer the presidency lasts, the more the creative possibilities dwindle. If Biden gives the Republicans what they want, he may gamble himself in the eminently important climate policy and his presidency at the same time. Time is also pressing politically: there are mid-term elections in the coming year and it is considered likely that the Democrats will lose their majorities in Congress. So Biden is currently fighting against himself and his urge to compromise.
“Bullets for this war are batteries”
According to the non-profit organization “Rewiring America”, the US industry would already have to produce ten times as much electrical devices that replace CO2-producing equivalents in order to achieve the specified goal. Similar to the switch to a war economy in World War II, the country would have to turn around hard. “The balls to win this war are batteries, electric vehicles, offshore wind turbines, wind turbines, solar cells on the roofs and heat pumps,” one of their representatives told the New York Times. “There’s no better time to do this than now, when unemployment is high and we need to get people back into jobs.”
When the president promised the progressive wing last week that the deal with the Republicans would only exist in tandem with the climate project, they threatened to terminate the laboriously negotiated agreement. The president quickly rowed back and appeased the opposition. The episode shows how difficult it is for Biden to find a balance between his striving for non-partisanship, demands from his own ranks and climate policy necessities.
Hundreds of climate activists of the “Sunrise Movement” appeared in front of the White House on Monday and temporarily blocked all ten entrances. They called on Biden to keep his campaign promises to fight climate change. Among other things, “Biden you coward, fight for us” and “No climate, no compromise” could be read on their signs. The Secret Service arrested dozens of them.