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The Climate 202

The costs of climate change are getting lost on Capitol Hill

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202!

🚨 A Washington Post investigation published this morning found that Russia allows methane leaks at the planet's peril. But first:

Economists say the true costs of climate change are getting lost on Capitol Hill

As Democrats in Congress face pressure to lower the price tag of their $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending package, economists are sounding the alarm over climate spending that might be scaled back.

Prominent economists say climate change will impose astronomical costs on the United States in the coming years through natural disasters, lost labor productivity, energy costs, migration and other impacts. And they argue that spending more money to address climate change today is a smart investment that will pay off later.

“I think we have substantially underinvested in climate action for a very long time, but certainly since 1988, when Congress had its first hearings on climate change,” said Robert Kopp, a professor at Rutgers University and co-author of “Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus.

The longer we wait, the more damages we'll have to deal with, and the more costly it will be to lower our emissions in a way that avoids future damages, Kopp said.

The congressional fight: The size and scope of the social spending bill will probably be slimmed down dramatically to appease moderate Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have said they would not support a bill as large as $3.5 trillion.

  • President Biden “personally has warned Democrats in recent days that their package is likely to be less than $2.5 trillion” over 10 years, my colleague Tony Romm reported last week.
  • And Manchin proposed a deal this summer to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to cap the deal at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, Politico reported.

But economists say the debate on Capitol Hill is largely missing the economic context of climate change, which recent research has laid out in stark terms.

  • A 2017 study in the journal Science found that for every 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) that the planet warms, climate impacts could cost the United States roughly 1.2 percent of gross domestic product.
  • A 2019 working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research put that number even higher, finding climate change could cost the United States up to 10.5 percent of GDP by 2100.

Kamiar Mohaddes, a co-author of the 2019 working paper and an economist at the University of Cambridge, said that scaling back the climate provisions in the reconciliation bill would be a “mistake.”

The fiscal risks of climate inaction vastly outweigh fiscal risks of climate action,” Mohaddes said in an email.

CBS News meteorologist Jeff Berardelli:

Climate-driven costs can take various forms, including more frequent and expensive weather disasters such as hurricanes, droughts and wildfires.

  • So far this year, the United States has already seen 18 natural disasters that cost at least $1 billion each, Kerrin Jeromin reported for The Post.
  • “These 18 events put 2021 in second place for the most billion-dollar disasters behind 2020, when there were 22 such events,” Jeromin wrote.
Carbon taxes

Economists aren't only concerned with the price tag of the reconciliation bill. They're also eager to see the bill include a carbon tax, a policy favored in economic circles but long considered “political kryptonite,” The Post's Jeff Stein and Steven Mufson reported.

The idea is to tax each ton of carbon emissions released by major oil and gas producers. The revenue could then either help pay for Democrats' spending package, or be sent back to consumers as rebates to compensate for higher energy prices.

“It is difficult to think of any climate policy that would be as effective and as ultimately inexpensive as an economywide carbon tax,” Michael Greenstone, a noted climate economist who directs the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, told The Climate 202. “In terms of cost per ton, carbon taxes rock.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been renewing calls for a carbon tax as part of the reconciliation package after Manchin voiced opposition to a clean electricity standard, the New York Times's Coral Davenport reported Saturday.

Asked whether Wyden was continuing to advocate for a carbon tax, Finance Committee adviser Ashley Schapitl said in an email: “He’s continuing to develop the policy, but I don’t think advocating is quite the right way to frame it. The senator has said he’s not getting ahead of the caucus on this issue, so he’s more ensuring the policy is ready to go if the caucus collectively decides that is what it wants to do.”

Pressure points

Russia allows methane leaks from gas pipelines. A new breed of satellite detects them.

In a different era, a massive methane leak from an underground gas pipeline in Russia might have gone unnoticed. But a European Space Agency satellite hovering 520 miles above the Earth was able to pinpoint the leak of the potent planet-warming gas, The Post's Steven Mufson, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis, John Muyskens and Naema Ahmed report.

“The episode reflects a fundamental shift in climate politics,” my colleagues report. “Many countries and companies have long misrepresented or simply miscounted how much fossil fuel-based methane they have let escape into the air. Now, new satellites devoted to locating and measuring greenhouse gases are orbiting Earth, with more on the way.”

Today's investigation is the first installment of the Post series Invisible, which exposes the vast gap between the climate commitments that countries have made and the rising concentrations of planet-warming gases in the atmosphere. The series will continue in the lead-up to a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland next month.

On the Hill

Democrats say a clean electricity standard isn't dead — yet

Several Democratic senators insisted Monday that it's premature to mourn the demise of the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), a central climate provision in the spending package that faces stiff opposition from Manchin.

“I'm not for declaring anything dead, or even alive, because there's no deal yet,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told reporters Monday evening. “And I think as the former secretary of state [and special presidential envoy for climate] John Kerry always is fond of saying, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told reporters that a CEPP, which would reward utilities for deploying more clean energy, “needs to be” in the budget reconciliation bill to reach Biden's goal of net-zero electricity by 2035.

And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) echoed that sentiment, although he acknowledged that he has “been told it would be prudent to plan alternatives” to the CEPP that would yield big emissions reductions, such as a fee on major emitters of carbon dioxide or methane.

Meanwhile, Manchin and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters that they met on Monday after their public and private feud over climate provisions in the bill, and the pair agreed to continue talking, per CNN's Manu Raju.

Climate commitments

A new report finds the United States can meet Biden's 2030 climate goal

The report from the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, concludes that the United States can fulfill Biden's pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

“The U.S. 2030 target that Biden set forward back in April is achievable,” John Larsen, a group director and lead author of the report, told The Climate 202. “We can put that within reach through a kind of series of sustained policy actions by all parts of government. And it starts with Congress.”

Members of Congress can achieve significant emissions reductions by passing both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the massive budget package, the report found.

  • Tax credits for clean electricity, electric vehicles and carbon capture will drive major emissions cuts, according to the report, which looked at the tax credit language from the House Ways and Means Committee, rather than the Senate Finance Committee.
  • While the report didn't look at the CEPP, a previous Rhodium Group analysis found that the CEPP would deliver the majority of emissions cuts from the power sector.

Regardless of whether Congress acts, the Environmental Protection Agency can also wield its Clean Air Act authority to issue robust climate regulations targeting cars and power plants.

Agency alert

Biden’s EPA is moving to curtail “forever chemicals”

The Environmental Protection Agency said it will move to regulate chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are found in a wide array of consumer products, including cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging, clothing and cleaning supplies, as well as the special firefighting foams used on military bases and airports, The Post’s Brady Dennis and Darryl Fears report.

The EPA announced that it plans to set a limit for PFAS in drinking water by 2023 and that it would require manufacturers to release detailed data about their production of these compounds, some of which could be classified as “hazardous chemicals” under the Superfund law, which outlines how hazardous waste sites should be cleaned up.

Extreme events

Dozens have died in flooding and landslides in India

Flash flooding and landslides brought on by heavy rains have killed 25 people in the state of Kerala in southern India, bringing the total number of monsoon-related deaths in one week to 35, according to state officials. Another 2,000 people have been forced to evacuate, The Post's Jennifer Hassan reports.


Climate activist Greta Thunberg Rickrolled at a climate concert and Rick Astley applauded it, writing “thanks so much” in Swedish.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.