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Blumenauer: Biden should declare climate emergency

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By PETER WONG
Oregon Capital Bureau

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer says he still thinks President Joe Biden should declare a climate emergency, and Congress should ensure that already-approved billions go into projects to mitigate climate change and speed the transition from fossil fuels.

The Democrat from Portland also said that delegates to the recent United Nations conference on climate change, which he attended in Egypt, were heartened by domestic political developments in last week’s midterm elections.

Democrats kept their thin majority in the Senate, although there is a runoff election for one seat held by a Democrat. Neither party has secured a majority in the House, though Blumenauer said that even if Republicans end up winning control, it will be only by a few seats — and not all Republicans are climate-change deniers.

“Some of my Republican friends were at this conference. They are not a head-in-the-sand caucus … so we have some hope in terms of what is going to happen,” Blumenauer said in a video conference call with reporters Monday after his return from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

“They would not be helped in their short-term or long-term objectives to be unrelenting opponents. That doesn’t get them anywhere where we need to be as a country … at a time when there is greater recognition of the challenge. The controversy is about accelerating progress, not denying that we need to make progress.

“So I think this is different and gives us some glimmer of hope.”

Among those who spoke at the UN conference were Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who during her first tenure as speaker from 2007 to 2011 named Blumenauer to a House select committee on climate change. Republicans abolished the committee when they became the majority in 2011, but Pelosi reappointed it when Democrats won and she became speaker again in 2019. Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici is on the current panel.

Reason for optimism

Blumenauer, 74, just won a 14th term in Oregon’s 3rd District seat, which he was elected to in May 1996 after Ron Wyden went to the U.S. Senate. He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax legislation, and leads its subcommittee on trade.

He has held public office for 50 years, beginning with his election to the Oregon House at age 24 in 1972. He also has been a Multnomah County commissioner and a Portland city commissioner.

At the UN conference, Secretary General António Guterres warned that nations were failing to take specific actions to carry out their prior pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” he said Nov. 6.

Blumenauer has been among those who have urged the federal government to do more to prepare for the extremes — wildfires, heat waves, floods and droughts — that climate change will bring.

But Blumenauer said there also is reason for optimism, given that the United States is headed toward reducing emissions by 40% under legislation, which set aside $370 billion over 10 years for federal incentives to mitigate the effects of climate change and speed the transition from oil, gas and coal. Biden has set a goal of 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.

As a Ways and Means Committee member, Blumenauer helped shape some of the tax incentives in the legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed Aug. 16.

“The most important thing we need to do is to mobilize forces to be able to implement those provisions,” he said. “There is a lot of discretion for the administration and opportunities for people around the country to be able to have access to resources for more equitable infrastructure and low-carbon infrastructure. We have to make it happen.”

Debt ceiling politics

A Republican takeover of the House might put those provisions in jeopardy, even with the Senate still in Democratic hands and Biden in the White House. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is bidding to be speaker, has said he might hold hostage future increases in the federal debt ceiling as political leverage to force spending cuts, even extending to Social Security and Medicare.

Democrats will continue to hold majorities in both chambers until Jan. 3. Blumenauer said Democrats should act in the post-election session of Congress to thwart any such attempt by Republicans.

“I would hope this is something that can be done relatively quickly in this lame-duck session before we start up the new Congress,” he said. “We have majorities in both chambers. There is a realization that we do not want to gamble with America’s economy or the global economy.”

Blumenauer is among those who have urged Biden to declare a climate emergency.

“It is important to symbolize that we understand we are in a climate emergency, and be able to marshal more federal resources without interference from Congress and bring down some of the bureaucratic barriers,” he said. “It would enable us to accelerate production in key areas. It would be a powerful symbol that we take this seriously.”

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