Among the many provisions in the massive budget reconciliation bill still working its way through Congress is one particularly noteworthy provision — adoption of a clean electricity standard by 2030.
The new standard is a key element of President Joe Biden's climate policies, sending federal funds that would help states achieve an 80% carbon-free electrical grid by 2030. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the electrical power sector is "the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions" in the country, topped only by the transportation sector.
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith is among a handful of senators working for months on a national clean energy standard. "Americans want clean energy," the Minnesota Democrat told an editorial writer. "This could bring real, meaningful progress." The plan, she said, would use grants to help utilities more quickly make the needed changes.
Minnesota's Xcel Energy has already committed to going carbon-free by midcentury. Federal funds could accelerate that timetable. Utility providers would be required to include more clean energy in their mix over time. Grants would be provided to speed that process, along with tax incentives.
The result, Smith said, would be lower electricity bills, an explosion of well-paying "green" jobs across the U.S., greater energy independence and, more importantly, a mitigation of carbon in the atmosphere.
There is a lot here for both Democrats and Republicans to like: Job creation, greater energy independence from fossil fuels, and positive moves toward doing what is possible to soften the effects of climate change.
For there is no longer any point in debating whether or when climate change will arrive. It's here. Extreme weather events are occurring with alarming, even crippling, frequency, becoming the norm rather than the exception. There have been fires in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness before, but the entire BWCA hasn't been closed since the drought of 1976.
Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in Louisiana, was powerful enough to cause monsoon-level rains in New York City. The estimated $95 billion in total damage caused by Ida is enough to have a "notable negative impact on the U.S. economy in the latter half of the year," according to AccuWeather Global.
The changes happening all around us cross all geographic, demographic and economic lines, binding us all together in a common fate. As it turns out, it may be that rural areas are being hit the hardest. The cumulative blows from extreme hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods and winter storms have been too much for some small communities, pushing them to the brink of insolvency. Federal disaster funds can take too long and are seldom able to bring these areas back to what they once were.
How much better it would be to actually opt for prevention instead of constant and costly cleanup afterward, to say nothing of the lives that could be saved. Would a new standard alone be enough? Sadly, no. The moment for avoiding climate change passed in the decades that were spent questioning its existence.
But there is still time to take action to help stave off the worst of it. "We can't squander this moment," Smith said. "We can either lead or follow when it comes to the clean energy transition. I want us to lead."