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Suspend transit fares instead of the gas tax, climate advocates tell Biden

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we're reading about life hacks from the '60s that were definitely bad for the environment. 😬 But first:

Suspend transit fares instead of the gas tax, climate advocates tell Biden

President Biden should be pushing for a transit fare holiday, rather than a gas tax holiday, if he's serious about tackling climate change and cutting emissions from America's car-centric transportation system, according to climate advocates and some House Democrats.

Biden appealed to Congress on Wednesday to suspend the federal gasoline and diesel tax for three months, as the national average price of gas hovers at nearly $5 a gallon. But his proposal faces skepticism from lawmakers in both parties — and even some White House economists and Treasury Department officials — who worry that it would not meaningfully bring down prices at the pump.

And some Democrats say Biden, who took office promising ambitious action to fight climate change, should reduce costs for consumers in a way that doesn't increase planet-warming emissions from fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.

“There's a whole series of things we could do to reduce our dependence on single-occupancy vehicles, which is killing people,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told The Climate 202 on Wednesday.

“There's a whole suite of opportunities in terms of dealing with bike share as mass transit, giving relief in terms of transit fares, and helping people in terms of biking and walking,” said Blumenauer, who often wears a bicycle pin on his lapel.

Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group, a nonpartisan research and public policy organization, echoed that assessment.

“If we're looking to address climate change and to give people flexibility to avoid high gas prices in their daily lives, then we should be giving them as many choices as we can,” Dutzik told The Climate 202. “And providing transit fare relief would help people who have access to transit make better use of it.”

The transportation sector recently surpassed the power sector as the country's largest source of planet-warming pollution, accounting for 27 percent of all carbon emissions in 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Cars and trucks produce the bulk of those emissions.

To reach Biden's goal of slashing economywide emissions in half by 2030, climate advocates say the administration should not only encourage electric vehicle adoption, but also incentivize carpooling, transit ridership, biking and walking.

“In a lot of parts of the country, you sort of have to drive — you don't have other options,” said Matt Casale, director of environment campaigns for U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “So there has to be a longer-term strategy to give people better options to make it easier not to drive.”

Windfall profits tax

To be sure, a transit fare holiday is not an active conversation on Capitol Hill, where many Democrats are instead pushing legislation to punish oil companies for allegedly “price gouging” consumers and reaping record profits.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) on Tuesday released a scathing statement on Biden's push to suspend the gas tax, calling it “a short-sighted proposal that relies on the cooperation of oil companies to pass on minuscule savings to consumers — the same oil companies that made record profits last year and a staggering $35 billion in the first quarter of 2022.”

DeFazio told The Climate 202 that Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, called him Tuesday evening after the statement had come out. The Oregon Democrat, who is retiring at the end of his term, told Deese that he would rather tax the oil industry's record profits and send rebates to consumers.

“I said, ‘We’re Democrats. Why don't we go after the oil companies' windfall profits?' ” DeFazio said. “They're going to buy back $22 billion worth of stock out of their excess profits.”

A windfall profits tax has not been endorsed by the White House and faces major resistance from Republicans. But Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has introduced legislation with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to tax oil companies' profits and send rebates to consumers, said he is continuing to drum up support for the measure.

“Delivering relief at the pump has to be the top priority for Democrats right now and the best way to do that is to pass my windfall profits tax with Senator Whitehouse to tax Big Oil on their excess profits and return money directly to Americans,” Khanna said in a statement to The Climate 202.

“There are also options available to the federal government to further save consumers money like passing a public transit fare holiday to increase use of public transit and decrease reliance on gasoline,” he said. “What we shouldn’t do is pass a gas tax holiday, placing the blame on government while letting Big Oil continue to rake in record profits.”

Paul Williams, founder and director of the Center for Public Enterprise:

Extreme events

Climate change is making extreme heat worse across America, Post analysis finds

About 95 percent of people in the Lower 48 experienced nighttime temperatures more likely to occur because of human-induced climate change last week, according to a Washington Post analysis of data provided by the nonprofit Climate Central, The Washington Post's John Muyskens, Kasha Patel and Naema Ahmed report. 

Climate Central released a first-of-its-kind tool to illustrate how climate change is affecting everyday weather in real time by deploying computer models to simulate a world with and without carbon emissions. 

On June 13 alone, Phoenix, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, St. Louis, Tampa and Santa Fe, N.M., all experienced warm overnight temperatures that were made at least five times more likely because of climate change, the analysis found.

Typically, temperatures drop at night, allowing people to cool down from the daytime heat. But prolonged elevated nighttime temperatures are potentially more dangerous, increasing the risk of heat exhaustion, cramps, strokes and even death. The problem will worsen if the planet continues to warm rapidly, experts say. 

Friederike Otto, an expert in climate attribution science and co-lead of the World Weather Attribution initiative, said the tool is important because it shows how different the natural variability — what is and isn’t related to climate change — is across the country. 

“I think there is still a huge underestimation of just how much climate change already influences our daily life,” Otto said. “There’s still not really an appreciation of just how much the impacts today are costing us. Every time we go outside, it’s different because of climate change.”

‘Dangerous’ heat nears 105 degrees in Southeast, shattering records

For the past two weeks, oppressive heat has baked much of the Southern United States with no immediate sign of relenting, Matthew Cappucci reports for The Post. 

The heat wave, affecting nearly 56 million Americans, is forecast to set records in the Southeast for the rest of the week, with highs nearing 105 degrees in parts of Georgia and the Florida Panhandle and heat index values topping 110. 

According to the National Weather Service in Tulsa, “hot temperatures and high humidity will combine to create a dangerous situation” in which heat exhaustion and heatstroke are possible, especially for those working outdoors.

Pressure points

There’s a carbon capture gold rush. Some warn better solutions exist.

In recent months, the Biden administration, Elon Musk and companies like Alphabet and Meta have poured millions — in some cases billions — into developing carbon capture technology, The Post's Pranshu Verma reports.

Proponents say carbon capture, which takes carbon dioxide from the air and stores it deep underground, has the potential to quickly slow the Earth's rapid warming. But critics contend the technology is expensive, ineffective and difficult to scale. They also argue that money spent developing the tool distracts from proven climate solutions while allowing fossil fuel companies to continue their operations unchecked.

"The idea that this is going to be the fix to the global problem of massive emissions and accelerating climate change is just not borne out by reality,” said Nikki Reisch, director of climate programs at the Center for International Environmental Law. “It’s unfortunately an attractive myth [created] by the oil industry to perpetuate the idea that we can … have our cake and eat it too.”

International climate

Russia’s chokehold on gas could send Europe back to coal

As Russia continues to limit the flow of natural gas to several European countries, some are resurrecting old coal plants to meet increasing energy demand, potentially turning their backs on bold policies to fight climate change, The Post's Loveday Morris, Sammy Westfall and Reis Thebault report.

“We have to make sure that we use this crisis to move forward and not to have a backsliding on the dirty fossil fuels,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told reporters Tuesday after Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands announced plans this week to boost some coal power plants. 

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the prospect of using coal-fired plants is “bitter” but essential. His ministry added that Germany still plans to phase out coal within a decade, saying that “the coal exit in 2030 isn’t wobbling at all.”

E.U. lawmakers vote to reform emissions trading system, advance carbon border tax

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted to advance three climate laws, nearly two weeks after the same bills caused conflict in the chamber and prompted negotiations among the main political parties, Euronews reports. 

The approved draft laws include a revision to the European Union’s emissions trading system, a carbon border tax and a social climate fund. Altogether, the bills are meant to help cut the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030. The European Parliament and the European Council must agree on final versions of the legislation for it to become law. 

In the atmosphere


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