Democrats Climate Action Comes with Hefty Price Tag but Reneges on Substance

Faraz Rizvi is a writer and activist based out of the Inland Empire. He studied Political Science at UC Riverside and currently works at the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

By Faraz Rizvi

Over the past few weeks there has been consistent wrangling over the specific provisions of Biden’s infrastructure bills, the Build Back Better Act and the Reconciliation bill. This set of bills, initially totaling $3.5 trillion have emerged as the core of Biden’s climate agenda. Providing concrete climate action through a vision of programs that vary from greening and building Infrastructure to billions of dollars in clean energy investments. While the initial infrastructure package was a bold vision for a nation deeply impacted by climate and the economic fallout of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Washington political cynicism has eliminated the most significant aspects of climate legislation from the infrastructure plan. 

Currently, legislators are scrambling to rewrite the bill to reduce the total cost to $2 trillion dollars and writing out key segments of the climate agenda from the bill, leaving a bill severely inadequate to address the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Excised from the package is the Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), referred to as the muscle of the climate agenda, which includes a billions of dollars of investment in solar and wind energy generation as well as penalties to push utilities from phasing out fossil fuels. While the CEPP was far from perfect, it was the most ambitious proposal in the plan, providing a pathway to slash almost a billion tons of emissions by 2030. This would constitute the most aggressive plan to decarbonize an industrial economy on the global stage. 

Despite this becoming a central pillar of climate action from Democrats, the opposition of Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has resulted in the CEPP getting removed. The symbolic actions of Senators Manchin and Sinema have shown the extensive barriers to climate action even within the Democratic Party, and wrangling from the centrist and progressive factions of the party have lead to stalled negotiations between key segments threatening the prospects of the legislation entirely.  

As we have seen in the Inland region, the impacts of climate change are not going to be mitigated by our political leaders. It happens when our communities mobilize and stand up to vested corporate interests that disregard the health and safety of our communities. The inability of Washington’s political culture to land meaningful change on climate crisis within the narrowing window of time is a testament to something more and more people are realizing: that without mass mobilization of working class communities intersectionality aligned with communities of color, we will never see bold action that addresses climate change. In this realization, there is both relief and fear–no one will liberate us but ourselves.