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Déjà vu on climate action – The Hill

Champions of federal leadership on global climate change are probably experiencing déjà vu right now. They may be flashing back to Febr.13, 2013, when President Barack Obama delivered that year’s State of the Union address. Frustrated at Congress’s refusal to do anything about the global-warming emergency, Obama said, “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Obama followed through with executive orders and a federal climate-action plan. He forged an agreement with China to collaborate on cutting greenhouse gas pollution. That commitment from the world’s two largest carbon polluters created momentum for the historic Paris climate agreement in 2015.

Now, President Joe Biden must be the “climate president.” He sent Congress the most aggressive proposal yet — a $555 billion package — for the United States to invest in clean energy. But with Congress failing to act again, it’s time for Biden to use his authority aggressively in ways that make it difficult for a future president to undo his directives, as President Donald Trump did to Obama’s.

Tyranny of the minority

Historians will marvel someday at how Congress behaved on climate change. If the Senate were a private corporation, we would charge it with criminal negligence for failing to act on a clear and present threat to the American people, the economy, the environment and national security.

Political scientists will struggle to understand why Congress allowed a single U.S. senator with a clear conflict of interest to keep the world’s most powerful nation from confronting this cataclysmic global threat.

However, the real problem is the archaic rules that allow any single senator to kill bills for any reason by preventing votes and even debates on bills. Single senators can also put a “hold” on Senate confirmation of presidential appointees, preventing a new president from fully staffing his administration.

The filibuster and the hold are supposed to prevent the “tyranny of the majority” in Congress. But instead, they invite the tyranny of the minority, even a minority of one — and even when sabotaging the legislative process adversely affects the futures of 330 million Americans (and in the case of climate change, 8 billion humans and 9 million species).

To do its job properly, the Senate must get rid of both rules, or at least allow exceptions for emergencies. Good science substantiates that the need to rapidly draw down greenhouse gas pollution is such an emergency.

Meantime, Biden should begin issuing executive orders and initiating rulemakings to do what Congress has failed to do. Critics will accuse him of overreach and an imperial presidency. Interest groups will launch a barrage of lawsuits, some of which may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. So, the president should put on his armor and get ready to point out what should be evident and incontrovertible: Climate change hurts conservatives, too.

William S. Becker is a former U.S. Department of Energy central regional director who administered energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies programs, and he also served as special assistant to the department’s assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Becker is also executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a nonpartisan initiative founded in 2007 that works with national thought leaders to develop recommendations for the White House as well as House and Senate committees on climate and energy policies. The project is not affiliated with the White House.

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