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House climate crisis chair says spending plan is 'transformative,' despite cuts

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden delayed his departure for a summit in Italy today so he could get a deal with Democrats. He said no one's getting everything they want, but what's on the table now is a $1.75 trillion spending package. That includes new policies on taxes, the social safety net and carbon emissions. At the White House, Biden said the U.S. is ready to lead the world on climate change like it never has before.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This framework also makes the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis ever, ever happened, beyond any other advanced nation in the world.

SHAPIRO: He's joining world leaders in Scotland next week to discuss global plans for cutting carbon emissions. And our next guest is chair of Congress's Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. She argues that even the plan her party is struggling to pass does not go far enough.

Representative Kathy Castor, Democrat of Florida, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KATHY CASTOR: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Last month, you said this is a code red moment, but Democrats are answering the call. And while you praised this deal today, you've also said it will not get the U.S. to where it needs to be - net zero carbon emissions - by 2050. Can Democrats really claim to be answering the call if the proposal falls short of what the science demands?

CASTOR: You bet we can. We are poised in the Congress to pass the most historic package of clean energy investments in the history of America, and it comes at a very important time. One, we're about to march on to the Glasgow - the International Climate Summit. And it also comes at an important time here in America, where we're trying to build back better, get the economy back on track and do it in an equitable way.

SHAPIRO: And yet, success will not be measured by whether this is the most ambitious plan ever. It will be measured by whether it meets the demands of science. I mean, you've said we can't afford to keep kicking the can down the road. Right now, the package does not include the Clean Energy Performance Program, which represented a major investment in clean energy. In fact, there's nothing in the package that would involve penalties or fees for carbon emitters. How do you swallow a plan like that that is all carrot and no stick?

CASTOR: Well, we have no other choice. And that - it will put us on the path to reaching our - the scientific goal of net zero no later than 2050. The issue is, we don't have any more time to waste. And that's why it is so critical that President Biden has pressed a very divided Congress to come together and get this framework and infrastructure package passed. It will be transformational. It's going to lower costs for American consumers, make sure that clean energy is affordable and available to everyone. And, you know, we are on the hook for an increasing amount of resources that we pay out for these catastrophic events. Look at what we've dealt with just this year with fires and floods. We've got to make these investments now, and the Congress, thankfully, is poised to do that.

SHAPIRO: President Biden says the U.S. is prepared to take the global leadership mantle on climate change, but in the past, the U.S. has often broken its promises, pulling out of the Paris Agreement in 2016 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. And so even if Congress passes this package, which is a real question, why should other world leaders believe that the U.S. will continue taking climate change seriously, particularly given that the Republican Party opposes most of these measures?

CASTOR: It is a fair question for those other countries to ask. But we're back. America is back. And if you look back to the progress we've made since the Paris climate accord, clean energy is less expensive. You've seen enormous innovation on clean energy and adaptation. But it's not yet enough to avoid the most catastrophic impacts. It's the critical decade where we are now, and that's why this moment is so important. Unless the American people are behind this and our country is in a leadership role, it will be more difficult to rally the world to progress.

SHAPIRO: The goal of the Glasgow summit is to make a plan to keep global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. And so you represent the Tampa Bay Area and Florida. What will your congressional district look like in the future if global temperatures increase by two degrees or more?

CASTOR: You will not be able to recognize the state of Florida in the Tampa Bay Area, but we wouldn't be alone. Costs are increasing - property insurance, flood insurance. We have longer, hotter summers, electric bills. But if this continues, if we cannot control our greenhouse gases and put more money into adaptation, I fear for the future of my daughters. So there's also a moral call to action here.

SHAPIRO: What do you need to see come out of the climate summit in Scotland for you to deem it a success?

CASTOR: We have to have action now.

SHAPIRO: Action is a pretty broad term. What do you mean when you say action?

CASTOR: We need to make sure that countries are meeting their pledges to cut greenhouse gas pollution by at least 50% by the year 2030. That's a tall order. We need to keep the pressure on China, Russia, India, the other major emitters, and we need to help the vulnerable nations adapt and become more resilient.

SHAPIRO: And - but if I could just keep you on the goal of Scotland for a moment. And if just over two weeks from now that isn't what comes out of the summit, is global catastrophe inevitable?

CASTOR: It's going to be very difficult. But no, you get up the next day and you work to expand clean energy. I wish we could do things in one fell swoop, but the climate crisis is too big and complicated to think that you can just flick one switch and make it happen. No, this is going to be our pathway for the rest of our lives to work for clean energy and greater resilience in all we do.

SHAPIRO: Representative Kathy Castor, Democrat of Florida, is chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Thank you very much.

CASTOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.