Senate Democrats are getting ready to push climate proposals

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Monday, February 8, 2021

Senate committee leaders are now coming up with ways to curb global warming in everything from the tax code to farming, after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told them climate would be a top priority amid a broader infrastructure push this spring.

“As the Biden administration prepares a whole-of-government approach to combating climate change,” Schumer said on the Senate floor, “the Democratic majority will pursue a whole-of-Senate approach as well.” 

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)
A center of action for climate legislation will be the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Its new chairman, Sen. Thomas Carper (D), a close Biden ally from Delaware, is planning to shepherd through the 50-50 chamber the Kigali Amendment, a global pact to slash the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a group of human-made compounds that are among the most potent greenhouse gases. 

Biden told the State Department to send the treaty addressing the pollutants used in air conditioning and refrigerators to the Senate for ratification. Former president Donald Trump declined to do so despite requests from business groups representing manufacturers of alternative refrigerants. “It’s possible to do that in a way that enhances, not degrades, economic opportunity,” Carper said in a recent interview.

Senate Republicans backed efforts to rein in hydrofluorocarbons in a last round of coronavirus relief, but it remains to be seen if Biden can get 67 votes needed to approve the pact.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Reuters/Brandon Bell
Sen. Debbie Stabenow is pushing to help farmers get paid for locking carbon in soil and out of the air.

“The most important thing is that we put in place the technical assistance and information so that our farmers and foresters feel comfortable” doing that, said the Michigan Democrat, who is now chairing the Senate Agriculture Committee.

She also said Congress should consider boosting funding for the New Deal-era Commodity Credit Corporation. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Biden wants to use that government-owned financial institution to pay growers to farm sustainably. The Trump administration had relied on it to bail out farmers during trade tensions with China.

Sen. Ron Wyden wants the tax code to support Biden’s goal of eliminating greenhouse gases from the power sector by 2035.

One of the new Senate Finance Committee chairman’s ideas is to dramatically simplify tax incentives for clean energy — combining 44 different ones currently on the books into just three tax breaks that a wider variety of businesses could use.

The Oregon Democrat urged Democrats to act quickly, telling reporters in a recent press conference: “I’m of the view that climate change is an existential threat and the window to avert the worst climate catastrophe is closing.”

And any infrastructure package coming out of the Senate is likely to include a massive tax incentive for car buyers to purchase electric vehicles, embraced by Schumer during the last Congress.

One big question for Democrats: Work with Republicans — or go it alone?

Many Senate Democrats say they want to negotiate with Republicans on climate change, noting that doing so usually leads to legislation less likely to being toppled when power changes hands in Washington. 

“I love to work across the aisle. Bipartisan solutions are lasting solutions,” Carper said, noting that he worked with Republicans last year to write a transportation bill that would spend billions to increase the resiliency of roads and bridges to natural disasters and help states and cities build electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Carper would like to revive that legislation this year.

But Carper said his party needs to be prepared to act alone if the GOP appears unwilling to work with them on climate issues. “At the end of the day, if we’re unable to do that and we have to use some other technique,” Carper added, “we’ll do that.”

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) had worked with Stabenow on legislation tackling the impact agriculture is having on rising temperatures.

But he said recent decisions by Biden to kill the Keystone XL pipeline and halt new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters makes it harder to come to compromises on climate change.

“I’ve been the most engaging Republican on the topic,” he said, ”but I’ve got red lines that I don’t want crossed. And it’s already happened in a couple cases.”