“We can’t continue to try and ignore reality,” Biden said in Boise as he pitched his infrastructure package. “President Obama used to always say, ‘Reality has a way of working its way in.’ And the reality is: We have a global warming problem.”
Biden’s trip began a week filled with climate events, part of a broader effort to tout the environmental initiatives that are part of the infrastructure bills his administration is pushing. Democrats are hoping to commit billions of dollars to combat climate change and modernize the country’s infrastructure to make it more resilient.
The White House sees the legislation as critical to Biden’s goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2035.
Last month, the Senate passed the first part of Biden’s agenda, a $1 trillion bipartisan bill focused on the country’s physical infrastructure that includes funds for new climate-resilience initiatives. Now Democrats are hashing out the details of the second part, a $3.5 trillion bill that would fight climate change, expand Medicare and boost federal social services such as paid family leave and free community college.
The package calls for clean-energy tax credits for individuals and businesses, a clean-electricity standard and the creation of a civilian climate corps, a top priority for progressive climate groups.
On Monday, Biden visited the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates the country’s firefighting resources, in Boise for a briefing from federal and state officials.
“I’m here to hear what’s on your mind and what more my administration can be doing,” Biden told officials. “You know the time of the year the air fills with smoke and the sky turns orange. That time is getting earlier every year.”
There are 81 active large fires across the country, including 22 in Idaho, 15 in Montana, 13 in California and 11 in Washington, according to the center.
After about an hour-long briefing, the president met with and thanked technicians, smoke jumpers and first responders. Just outside the center, hundreds of protesters gathered in opposition to the president’s policies on the coronavirus, Afghanistan and immigration. Many displayed support for former president Donald Trump and carried expletive-laden signs about Biden. Trump won Idaho in the 2020 presidential election with more than 63 percent of the vote, and some in attendance echoed Trump’s claim that the presidency was stolen from him despite no evidence of voter fraud.
Biden then traveled to Mather, Calif., to meet with top state officials and take an aerial tour of the damage from the Caldor Fire.
“We know that decades of forest management decisions have created hazardous conditions across the Western forest, but we can’t ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” he said in remarks after flying over the charred landscape. “It isn’t about red or blue states. It’s about fires. Just fires.”
Biden was joined in Northern California by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who extolled the president’s leadership on global warming and said his administration is focused on “addressing the ravages of climate change” as no other past president has. Newsom then joined Biden on Air Force One to fly to Long Beach, where the president was to campaign on behalf of Newsom, who is facing a recall election that ends Tuesday.
“What we have seen in the past two weeks alone is infrastructure that is failing, that has been forgotten, that there have not been the investments made to make it resilient,” said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power, a climate advocacy organization.
Lodes said the country is at a “make-or-break” point and that Washington needs to take aggressive action to address infrastructure and reduce emissions.
“There is not another opportunity to take action that will be as transformative as we need it to be as soon as we need it to be,” she said. “Every day that we sort of miss that moment, we are getting ourselves in worse trouble.”
Biden will continue to pitch his plan Tuesday in Colorado, where he will tour the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and deliver remarks on the infrastructure package.
In recent weeks, however, divisions have emerged in the Democratic caucus over the size of the package, most notably with Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) saying he would not support a $3.5 trillion bill. Manchin raised concerns about Democrats’ plans to reduce emissions by paying energy providers to use cleaner sources.
“The transition is happening,” he said Sunday on CNN. “Now they’re wanting to pay companies for what they’re already doing. It makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions.”
For their part, Republicans are united against the bill, framing it as a socialist program that would harm the economy.
“The Democrats’ reckless tax and spending blowout will impose punishing fees and raise energy costs,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement Monday. He added that the bill would “make energy less reliable, and cost thousands of workers — especially those in energy-producing states — their jobs. Congress should reject this dangerous proposal.”
The climate components of the infrastructure package have taken on increased urgency in recent months as extreme weather events hit Americans across the country. An analysis by The Washington Post found that nearly 1 in 3 Americans live in a county struck by a weather disaster this summer. Since June, Biden has approved more than a dozen disaster declarations to make available federal aid to supplement recovery efforts from climate disasters. Last week, the administration asked Congress for at least $24 billion in additional federal aid to respond to natural disasters.
In the past two weeks, Biden visited storm-ravaged Louisiana and flooded New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Ida and its remnants battered both the South and the Northeast. The storm caused an estimated $50 billion in damage and killed more than 50 people in the Northeast and more two dozen in Louisiana. During the trips, Biden surveyed the damage, pledged robust federal assistance and reflected on the conditions in which all Americans are at risk because of climate change.
“We have to think big,” Biden said Monday. “Thinking small is a prescription for disaster. We’re going to get this done. This nation is going to come together, and we are going to beat this climate change.”
Even as Biden focuses on wildfires in the West, Tropical Storm Nicholas is forecast to bring significant flooding to Gulf Coast portions of Texas and Louisiana in the coming days. Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, is vulnerable to flooding and could see six to 12 inches of rain.
“He’s really risen to this moment that we are confronted with because climate [change] is disrupting people’s daily lives,” Lodes said. “And while that has been true for a long time in certain parts of the country, what we are now seeing is that a majority of people are feeling it every day in some way.”
She added: “Is this how the White House necessarily designed these last three weeks? Probably not, but it is what the moment requires.”