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Climate Activists Protest Compromise on Infrastructure Bill

Mike Tidwell at press conference 6.29.21.JPG

Last week, after months of negotiations, President Joe Biden announced a bipartisan compromise in the U.S. Senate on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. He said it would mean road and bridge construction…as well as unprecedented spending on mass transportation.

“This deal means millions of good-paying jobs,” Biden said at a press conference. “But it also signals to ourselves and to the world that American Democracy can deliver. It delivers clean transportation, clean water, and universal broadband.”

In theory, environmentalists could have been thrilled. After all, the bill includes $7.5 billion for the installation of a half million electric vehicle charging stations across the country. And another $7.5 billion for buying electric buses.

But instead of dancing in the streets, hundreds of environmentalists in the Sunrise Movement staged a loud protest and sit-in on Monday outside the White House.

Crowd chants: “No Climate? No deal! No unions? No deal!”

And on Tuesday, Maryland-based climate activist Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, held a rally in front of the Capitol Building with labor activists who said they were bitterly disappointed with the compromise.

“The Senate compromise bill is a small step, and we need a large leap,” Tidwell said. “That is why we’re here today. Because the President in March proposed a $2.3 trillion dollar plan that would invest – for example -- $400 billion for wind and solar energy to clean up the grid and create a modern grid. The plan back in March would have created a Climate Conservation Corps, for young people and others to take action on climate, similar to what President Roosevelt did with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. There are just so many elements to the original American Jobs Plan that the President unveiled in March that are nowhere to be found in the new bipartisan compromise bill.”

Another speaker during the rally yesterday, Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia, represents a district in Hampton Roads that is being increasingly flooded in part by rising sea levels caused by climate change. Scott told the crowd said the sweltering heat this week – including a record-breaking 112 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Oregon -- is additional evidence that President Biden should not have compromised on his earlier commitments to invest more than twice as much in clean energy to fight global warming.

“As we gather today, we are suffering through a dangerous heat wave – precedent setting,” Scott said. “Ninety degrees used to be noteworthy. Now, (in the Pacific Northwest) they’ve had several days in a row where it’s over 110.”

Elsewhere, on the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that Biden should not follow through with his implied threat over the weekend that he might veto the compromise infrastructure bill if it is not paired with a much larger, second bill to spend billions more on clean energy. This second bill would be achieved not through bipartisan compromise, but through a more partisan budget reconciliation process.

“Now, I have no doubt the President is under enormous pressure from some on the left to deliver on a laundry list of radical climate demands,” McConnell said. “More and more members of their party are having to contort their positions to keep pace with the expectations of the Green New Deal fringe. But really: Caving completely? That’s not the way to show you are serious about getting a bipartisan outcome.”

Of course, McConnell has also pledged to fight anything and everything that Biden proposes. So all the empty rhetoric about bipartisanship is heating up just at the time our planet is suffering deadly heat waves. More hot air could prove fatal.

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The Environment in Focus is independently owned and distributed by Environment in Focus Radio to WYPR and other stations. The program is sponsored by the Abell Foundation. The views expressed are solely Tom Pelton's. You can contact him at pelton.tom@gmail.com.