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On stop in Colorado, Biden makes the economic case for his climate-focused agenda

President Biden traveled to Colorado on Sept. 14 to make the economic case for his climate agenda. (Video: Reuters)

ARVADA, Colo. — President Biden's schedule over the past two weeks has been consumed by responding to extreme-weather disasters. He has toured hurricane-battered Louisiana, the flooded Northeast and fire-charred California. He has warned Americans that all communities are at risk, as he has worked to build support for his efforts to make major investments in combating climate change.

On Tuesday, he traveled to Colorado to make the economic case for his climate-focused agenda, arguing that investments in green infrastructure and technology are fiscally responsible and key to economic growth.

“Every dollar we spend saves six dollars down the road because the next time a disaster strikes, flooding is contained,” he said in a speech from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Flatirons Campus. “Fire doesn’t spread as widely. The power stays on, and these investments can also save lives, save homes and create good-paying jobs for Americans to make our country stronger and more resilient.”

In making his pitch, Biden said extreme-weather events cost $99 billion in damage last year, and the country is on pace to suffer more than $100 billion in damage this year, which would set a record.

But the president argued climate investments were not only about reducing damage. He said the spending would spur economic growth and create high-paying union jobs throughout the country. He touted opportunities to make technological advances in wind, solar and storage, and reduce the cost of renewable energy.

“In the end, it’s not about red states or blue states,” Biden said. “A drought or a fire doesn’t see a property line. It doesn’t give a damn for which party you belong to. Disasters aren’t going to stop. That’s the nature of the climate threat. But we know what we have to do. We just need to summon the courage and the creativity to do it. Yes, we face a crisis. But we face a crisis with an unprecedented opportunity to create good jobs, to create industries of the future, to win the future, to save the planet.”

The president spoke after touring the campus, where he observed a demonstration of the wind turbine, known as “The Blade,” and met with representatives of the laboratory and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“These guys are changing the world, man,” Biden said.

Biden’s trip to Colorado followed a three-stop swing through the West Coast on Monday. The president visited the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, before traveling to Mather, Calif., for a briefing from top state officials and an aerial tour of the damage wrought by the Caldor Fire. He then flew to Long Beach, Calif., to campaign for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ahead of Tuesday’s recall election.

White House officials said Biden’s recent travels have allowed the president to spotlight the urgency of addressing climate change, while also laying out his plan to combat it.

“We see the costs that are mounting today,” Ali Zaidi, the White House deputy national climate adviser, said in an interview. “We know the investments we will make pay off in multiples, and we also see where the global economy is going and where the upside is, and if we chase after it and make the investments we know we need to, we can secure those benefits for our citizens, our workers, for our communities.”

But back in Washington, the White House faces head winds on Capitol Hill as Democrats continued their work to craft a sprawling $3.5 trillion economic package that could amount to the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history. Party lawmakers have raced to write the proposal over a series of marathon legislative sessions in recent days, hoping to complete their task by Wednesday.

The evolving package includes a $150 billion initiative to foster clean energy, fresh penalties on those that continue to pollute and a slew of expanded programs that help Americans improve the energy efficiency of their homes and purchase environmentally friendly vehicles. Many of the ideas correspond with plans that Biden put forward earlier this year and could contribute significantly toward his goal of halving emissions by 2030.

Republicans have been opposed to Democrats’ ambitions to spend billions of dollars on climate initiatives, criticizing the economic package as wasteful spending that would raise energy costs and hurt American competitiveness.

“This is not what the American people want,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Monday as the panel worked on the legislation. “This is Speaker Pelosi’s grand socialist agenda to destroy freedom and embolden our enemies on the backs of the American people.”

In making the case for urgency, Democrats have pointed to the devastation wrought just over the past few months. With wildfires still raging across the county, and the East Coast only just beginning to square with the aftermath of two deadly hurricanes, lawmakers have stressed that they cannot afford to squander the political moment.

“There is no time for delay,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as he gaveled the panel into work Monday to debate some of the climate provisions.

Democrats have endeavored to adopt the new spending plan — and the rest of their economic agenda — through a process known as reconciliation. The move allows them to advance tax and spending measures without risk of running into a guaranteed GOP filibuster in the narrowly divided Senate

But doing so requires Democrats to remain united, an increasingly tough task as party lawmakers continued to war with one another in public over the size and scope of their spending ambitions.

The tensions flashed again Tuesday: Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), one of his party’s most pivotal, centrist members, reiterated his opposition to a package with a $3.5 trillion price tag. Manchin previously has raised the potential of a package that is less than half that size, a move that would force Democrats to scale back many of their ideas, potentially including climate change.

Manchin this weekend also sounded early opposition to a central element of Democrats’ efforts to address climate issues — a payment program that rewards energy producers that reduce emissions while penalizing those that do not. Asked about the issue Tuesday, Manchin merely replied: “I think everyone knows my position.”

But Democrats remained undeterred.

“I’m absolutely confident that at the end of the day we are going to pass this $3.5 trillion legislation,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chief architect of the budget plan.

And when Biden was asked Tuesday whether he would sign a package with slimmed-down climate measures, he responded: “I’m for more climate measures.”

Romm reported from Washington.