Congress debates significant climate change legislation while hurricanes and storms rage worldwide

An ambitious climate change bill, part of President Biden’s goal to transform America’s energy sector, will soon hit the Congress floor. Democrats in Congress are drafting legislation that, if passed, would put $3.5 trillion towards reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, improving clean electricity sources and addressing the destruction caused by the recent record-making floods, heat waves, droughts and wildfires. Additionally, this legislation would help the United States fulfill its obligations as a part of the Paris Climate Accords. The Biden administration, which rejoined the accord immediately after taking office, should have strong measures in place before meeting with leadership from countries around the world at the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland in November. 

This legislation follows the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was passed by the Senate in July and is expected to be voted on by the House later this month. According to the New York Times, the infrastructure bill would help communities improve their defenses against natural disasters; for example, a proposed $27 billion would help harden electric grids and prevent the increasing number of blackouts in recent months. 

If the climate change bill is passed, much would have to be considered. A key element of the legislation is the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) which would pay utilities to switch from greenhouse gas-emitting electricity sources to non-emitting sources, according to NPR. Such sources would include wind, solar, and hydropower energy sources, which are proven to be incredibly effective in the decarbonization of our environment. The CEPP plan would, however, deal a large hit to the coal industry. Nichelle Bloodworth, the president and CEO of America’s Power, which advocates for coal producers, utility companies, and railroads, predicts that “The CEPP would eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2030, if not sooner.” Oil companies, too, have expressed concerns about the proposed legislation. “Our industry feels like it’s under attack,” said American Exploration & Production Council CEO Anne Bradbury. “[Democrats] are rushing bad policy in an enormous bill that very few people are actually going to read, and will not have the appropriate time for the American people or even lawmakers to fully digest the impact.”

As a result of such concerns, many critics of the bill feel an urge to slow down proceedings. “The bill as it’s come out would dramatically increase the size and scope of government through record levels of spending,” said Marty Durbin, senior vice president of policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has provided strong opposition against the legislation.

Scientists and environmentalists, however, say that a shift against non-renewable energy sources must happen soon. This summer’s weather was extreme, ranging from raging wildfires in California to severe drought in the Midwest to deadly flooding in New York. In just the past few weeks, Hurricane Ida and Larry wreaked havoc on Louisiana and countries across the open Atlantic, and Tropical Storm Nicholas swept across Texas and Louisiana, yet again, most recently. After Ida, over 95,000 households remained without power in Louisiana, with Nicholas adding an additional 13,500 outages. Governor John Bel Edwards requested a federal emergency declaration, which was approved by President Biden on Monday, September 13. In anticipation of possible building damage and flooding, more than 8,000 service members from the National Guard had been activated, as well as 80 high-water vehicles and 23 boats. As of Saturday, September 14, the death count in Louisiana is 29, 13 of which were “attributable to the heat,” according to Gov. Edwards. 

“We’re not even ready for the disasters that are coming at us now,” said Rachel Cleetus, climate policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in light of these recent extreme weather events. “And there’s just no way we’re going to be able to get ahead of what’s coming in the future unless we can get our emissions and climate change in check.”

Tsion Weldetsadik, a member of Hope Advocates for Sustainability (HAS), noted that “We’ve been on that path and that journey [of non-renewable energy] for so long. With the way that our earth has been damaged, we can only do so much to gain profits if we still have the earth… We need to prioritize people and the land that we live in over the profits that we are making for a certain group of countries.” 

Tsion Weldetsadik ’24

Weldetsadik is a sophomore majoring in political science and double-minoring in French and communication. She serves the Hope Advocates for Sustainability (HAS) as an environmental justice intern, a new position within the organization this year. Through her position, Weldetsadik urges us to think about communities outside of the United States. “We also need to look at the way people around the world are being impacted, we need to look at their health. How are multinational companies affecting the lives of people that we don’t hear about?”

HAS is a student group that works to further the college’s mission of Christian stewardship by promoting conservation practices, improving waste management, engaging with residential life and hosting educational events. HAS strives to be a resource to any and all students, staff and faculty who need help pursuing a green lifestyle, particularly by understanding the needs of the communities in which we are involved. These goals are pursued in order to promote environmental justice, ensure the preservation of natural resources for future generations and prepare students to become sustainable leaders beyond graduation. 

Hope Advocates for Sustainability

When asked what we at Hope College can do to fight climate change, Weldetsadik encouraged making changes “in the little things that we do, from reducing the plastic in the bags that we use, the water that we use in the shower and how long we leave the lights on. A huge thing we can do is be conscious about the things we do in our daily lives.”
To find more information about HAS, living sustainably, and holding Hope College accountable for their sustainability, follow them at @has_hopecollege on Instagram. They hold different volunteer opportunities, such as clean-ups, and also have a podcast on Spotify called “The Voices of Sustainability,” in which they interview professionals, educate listeners about climate change and suggest ways to implement sustainability into daily life.

Carole Chee ('24) is the editor for the Beyond section. A double major in English and Women's & Gender Studies, you can find her around campus in the Keppel House, behind the library's research help desk, or in the theatre props shop! She is passionate about uplifting each person's unique story and voice.

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