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The Climate 202

A big bipartisan wildlife bill could be headed to Biden's desk

The Climate 202

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! 

🚨 The White House is entertaining the approval of oil and gas projects to secure the elusive vote of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) for President Biden's stalled spending bill, our colleagues Jeff Stein and Anna Phillips report this morning. More on that below. But first:

D.C. is abuzz over the reconciliation bill. But don't sleep on a bipartisan wildlife bill.

A major piece of environmental legislation could pass the Senate and reach President Biden's desk before Labor Day, and it starts with the letter “R.”

No, it's not Biden's long-stalled reconciliation package, which is still the subject of intense negotiations between Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Rather, it's the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, an ambitious bill to conserve the nation's wildlife and habitat as the biodiversity crisis causes the extinction of animal and plant species at an unprecedented rate.

While the wildlife measure has gotten far less attention in Washington than the reconciliation bill, environmentalists say it would make a crucial investment in protecting vulnerable species before it's too late.

And unlike the party-line reconciliation package, which faces uniform opposition from Republicans, the wildlife bill has bipartisan backing in both chambers of Congress.

  • The House passed the $1.4 billion measure in June by a vote of 231 to 190, with 16 Republicans voting for it. The bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).
  • On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the bill in April by a bipartisan vote of 15 to 5. It was introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

In an interview with The Climate 202 on Tuesday, Heinrich said he remains “optimistic” about the measure's near-term prospects.

“It's clear that we have the votes to be able to pass this in this Congress,” he said, adding, “The bipartisan support we have bodes well for us seeing action sooner rather than later.”

In a statement, Blunt said that “there is strong bipartisan, bicameral support for the bill, and I am hopeful we’ll be able to get it to the president’s desk this Congress.” 

‘Charismatic megafauna'

For decades, hunters and anglers have paid an excise tax on certain hunting and fishing gear, with the proceeds going toward state wildlife agencies' efforts to protect vulnerable species.

However, most of that money has historically gone toward conserving what environmentalists call “charismatic megafauna” — animal species with widespread popular appeal, such as bald eagles, deer and wolves.

In other words: tough luck for uncharismatic species such as mussels, salamanders, and some small fish and birds. (In September, the Fish and Wildlife Service removed eight species of freshwater mussels from the endangered species list because none could be found in the wild.)

Proponents of Recovering America's Wildlife Act say it would provide dedicated funding for states to protect all threatened species, regardless of their popularity.

“All of these species are important,” Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife Federation, told The Climate 202. “Salamanders, small birds and small fish are the base of the food chain in a lot of cases, and they support the larger species and the health of the overall ecosystem.”

Nick Wiley, chief operating officer at Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving wetlands and other habitats for waterfowl, agreed.

“This is a real breakthrough opportunity to help species that don't get a lot of headlines,” Wiley told The Climate 202.

Pay-fors and priorities

Despite the bill's broad support, there are lingering questions over how to offset the nearly $1.4 billion in new spending.

The House version of the bill was not paid for, causing heartburn among fiscal hawks of both parties. By contrast, the Senate version would at least partially offset the legislation with fees and fines paid by polluters.

Heinrich said he and Blunt are open to other pay-fors, although he declined to discuss the specifics before the bill hits the floor. He also acknowledged it may be difficult to get floor time in the coming months, given a host of other legislative priorities, including the reconciliation package and a China competitiveness bill.

“The schedule around here changes week to week based on who's here and who's not and a number of things that are outside my control,” Heinrich said. “But in my conversations with leadership, they want to see this bill move and they know that we have well above the 60-vote threshold. And both of those things make me optimistic.”

Pressure points

White House eyes oil and gas projects to woo Manchin on climate bill

In the past week and a half, the White House has signaled it might greenlight drilling plans in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico despite Biden's climate pledges, as officials wait to see whether their approval could help secure the vote of Manchin for a historic climate package, The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Anna Phillips report. 

However, White House aides do not know whether approving these proposals — or Manchin’s other preferred fossil fuel projects, such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia — would bring the elusive senator on board.

The difficult balancing act, described by four administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing a potential deal, comes as the White House scrambles to salvage the chances of meeting Biden's climate goals before the midterm elections.

Collectively, these fossil fuel projects would release hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide in the coming decades, undermining Biden's commitment to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. But experts say the trade-off might be worth it if Manchin agrees to vote for the budget reconciliation package, which contains a suite of tax credits that would allow the clean energy industry to dramatically expand.

Hanging over officials' heads is the fear of approving such carbon-intensive projects only to then lose Manchin’s vote on the climate and energy deal anyway, as the senator is known for refusing to be pinned down.

Republicans threaten Wall Street over climate positions

Republican officials across the country are threatening to retaliate against big financial firms for their efforts to combat climate change and other issues, playing into the nation's culture wars, The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. 

In recent years, the nation's top financial firms have used their clout to help curb global warming. For instance, the asset manager BlackRock has voted against the candidacies of hundreds of board members over their lackluster records on climate issues. JPMorgan Chase, the country's largest bank, has stopped lending to new coal mines or coal-fired power plants.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has hinted that if Republicans regain control of Congress in the midterm elections, they will pursue legislation to punish such corporate efforts.

“@BlackRock is using its massive size to drive up the price of gas & weaken national security — all so BlackRock’s rich executives can feel better about themselves,” Cotton tweeted last month. “The next Congress is going to take on this collusive racket.”

The firms have defended their stances, with BlackRock head Larry Fink saying in his annual letter that environmental, social and governance issues “have real and quantifiable financial impacts” but that the company “does not pursue divestment from oil and gas companies as a policy.”

U.S. emissions responsible for over $1.8 trillion of global economic losses, study says

The United States and China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters, caused more than $1.8 trillion of global economic loss between 1990 and 2014 from human-induced global warming, according to a new study from Dartmouth College that linked emissions from individual countries to financial impacts of climate change in others, Steven Mufson reports for The Post. 

During that period, the study found that U.S. emissions resulted in a 0.054 degree Celsius change in the global average temperature, bringing a 0.04 degree Celsius change in average temperature to Indonesia — equivalent to a loss of $124 billion in economic growth. Researchers say the study advances the theory that there is a scientific basis for legal claims for losses connected to global warming. 

“This research provides an answer to the question of whether there is a scientific basis for climate liability claims. The answer is yes,” Christopher Callahan, a PhD candidate at Dartmouth and an author of the study, said in a statement.

On the Hill

House Republicans introduce bill to sequester carbon through land use

Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), and Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to improve the nation's ability to capture and store planet-warming gases by making use of natural carbon sinks such as trees and soil. 

The Carbon Sequestration Collaboration Act would mandate a joint research effort across the Energy, Agriculture and Interior Departments to bolster the country's ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere through land use.

Lucas is the ranking member on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, while Thompson is the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee and Westerman is the top Republican on the House Natural Resources panel.

“As a farmer and rancher, I’m well aware of how sound land use practices can conserve resources and improve our environment,” Lucas said in a statement. “We need an all-of-the-above approach to addressing climate change — one that makes use of our many resources. Research and development into innovative solutions like this will be what drives our success in greenhouse gas reductions — not restrictive mandates that raise prices on American families.”

In the atmosphere

Viral

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