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"We're still going to need oil and gas for a while"

A climate hawk's fisking of the State of the Union: we're not facing reality


President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address without Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) behind him, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who represents the oil patches of Bakersfield, is now Speaker of the House.

In his speech Biden laid out a coherent, mainstream vision for investing in climate action and tackling corporate power, while defending American democracy from the extremism that has increasing control over the Republican Party.

A coherent vision, but sadly grossly insufficient, as was made clear by what Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) were able to veto when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. Biden said he wants higher constraints on corporate power, profits, and pollution, including the fossil-fuel industry, but the reality is that the reverse happened in the first two years of his administration. There is no reason to believe the trend will change in the 118th Congress.

The only line Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) applauded was when Biden said “We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while.”

As the People Vs. Fossil Fuels coalition says, “President Biden and his administration have undoubtedly taken steps towards climate action, but real climate progress cannot happen without stopping fossil fuel expansion in its tracks.”

Here are the speech excerpts of particular relevance to climate action:

You came together to pass once-in-a-generation infrastructure law, building bridges connecting our nation and our people. We came together to pass the most significant law ever helping victims exposed to toxic burn pits. . . .

The infrastructure law is, at best, a wash on greenhouse pollution. As military veterans finally got some support for their exposure to toxic pollution, millions of Americans—by far disproportionately people of color—continue to lack relief from existing pollution, let alone protections from new toxic megaprojects.

Folks, inflation — inflation has been a global problem because the pandemic disrupted our supply chains and Putin’s unfair and brutal war in Ukraine disrupted energy supplies as well as food supplies, blocking all that grain in Ukraine. But we’re better positioned than any country on earth right now. But we have more to do. But here at home, inflation is coming down. Here at home, gas prices are down $1.50 from their peak. . . .

Note that Biden fails to mention corporate profiteering as a source of inflation here.

And folks, as you all know, we used to be No. 1 in the world in infrastructure. We’ve sunk to 13th in the world. The United States of America — 13th in the world in infrastructure, modern infrastructure. But now we’re coming back because we came together and passed the bipartisan infrastructure law, the largest investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. And folks, already, we’ve funded over 20,000 projects, including major airports from Boston to Atlanta to Portland. Projects that are going to put thousands of people to work rebuilding our highways, our bridges, our railroads, our tunnels, ports, airports, clean water, high-speed internet all across America. Urban, rural, tribal. . .

Climate pollution from aviation has been surging and Pete Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation has no real plan to address it; rather, $15 billion is being spent to expand and rebuild airports. Similarly, although the administration does not like to highlight this fact, the lion’s share of surface-transportation funding is going to the highway system, not into public transportation or any other pollution-reducing agenda.

Look, we’re also replacing poisonous lead pipes that go into 10 million homes in America. Four hundred thousand school and child care centers, so every child in America, every child in America can drink the water instead of having permanent damage to their brain. . .

To fully replace the nation’s 10 million lead pipes would take $60 billion; the infrastructure law authorized $15 billion.

Look, the Inflation Reduction Act is also the most significant investment ever in climate change. Ever. Lowering utility bills, creating American jobs, leading the world to a clean energy future. I’ve visited the devastating aftermath of record floods, droughts, storms and wildfires, from Arizona to New Mexico to all the way up to the Canadian border. More timber has been burned that I’ve observed from helicopters than the entire state of Missouri. And we don’t have global warming? Not a problem.

This is a good encapsulation of the gulf between our political reality—where Democrats have to debate with climate-denier Republicans—and our physical reality, where greenhouse pollution and global warming is accelerating.

From People vs. Fossil Fuels: “While the IRA makes some progress towards a clean energy transition, it contains major fossil fuel industry handouts that will sacrifice frontline communities and increase planet-killing pollution.”

In addition to emergency recovery from Puerto Rico to Florida to Idaho, we’re rebuilding for the long term. New electric grids that are able to weather major storms and not prevent those forest fires [sic]. Roads and water systems to withstand the next big flood. Clean energy to cut pollution and create jobs in communities often left behind. We’re going to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations installed across the country by tens of thousands of IBEW workers.

And we’re helping families save more than $1,000 a year with tax credits to purchase electric vehicles and efficient appliances, energy-efficient appliances. Historic conservation efforts to be responsible stewards of our land.

The THRIVE Act supported by the Green New Deal Network would have allocated $10 trillion over 10 years to rebuild our economy towards the “long term.” About one tenth of that agenda became law. The Biden investments in electric grids, water systems, electrification are indeed historic, but grossly insufficient to actually weather the coming storms, fires, and floods.

Let’s face reality. The climate crisis doesn’t care if you’re in a red or blue state. It’s an existential threat. We have an obligation, not to ourselves, but to our children and our grandchildren to confront it. I’m proud of how America at last is stepping up to the challenge. We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while. But guess what? No, we do. But there’s so much more to do. We’ve got to finish the job. . . .

Have you noticed Big Oil just reported its profits? Record profits. Last year, they made $200 billion in the midst of a global energy crisis. I think it’s outrageous. Why? They invested too little of that profit to increase domestic production, and when I talked to a couple of them, they say, “We’re afraid you’re going to shut down all the oil wells and all the oil refineries anyway, so why should we invest in them?”

I said, “We’re going to need oil for at least another decade.” And that’s going to exceed — and beyond that — we’re going to need it. Production. If they had in fact invested in the production to keep gas prices down — instead, they used the record profits to buy back their own stock, rewarding their C.E.O.s and shareholders.

Instead of calling for the oil and gas companies to invest their profits in new drilling, we could have done what was done throughout Europe—seizing the windfall profits and giving that money back to households.

Always finding more ways to kill us: ExxonMobil is not only the world’s largest private oil company, it’s the world’s largest producer of single-use plastic.

The Senate is on recess today for the Democratic and Republican retreats, but the House is busy today.

At 9:30 am, Rep. GT Thompson (R-Pa.) gavels in the Agriculture Committee for its organizational meeting. This is a big year for the committee, as the five-year Farm Bill expires this year. The profoundly mediocre Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) remains head of the Democratic contingent.

At 10 am, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) gavels in the Science, Space, and Technology Committee organizational meeting:

“The Committee will prioritize legislation that promotes innovation to adapt to a changing climate without burdensome regulations, mitigate the effects of severe climate and weather events, improve weather forecasting, and ensure scientific integrity and transparency in the conduct and use of science that underpins government decision-making for environmental protection.”

House Transportation’s Water Resources Subcommittee Chair David “King Canute” Rouzer (R-N.C.) is going after the Biden administration’s wetland protections with a hearing on the Waters of the United States Rule featuring agriculture, homebuilding, and rock-mining industry lobbyists, as well as former Trump environmental official and polluter lobbyist Susan Parker Bodine. The Democratic witness is environmental law professor Dave Owen.

Natural Resources chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) hosts a drill-baby-drill and mine-baby-mine hearing. The hearing memo approvingly cites the EIA’s burning-future projections to justify the need for drilling and burning every last hydrocarbon under the aegis of the U.S. of A.

The Republican witnesses for the energy panel are oil & gas lobbyist Kathleen Sgamma; offshore wind, oil & gas lobbyist Erik Milito, and solar, wind, and gas lobbyist JC Sandberg. The Democratic witness is WE ACT’s Dana Johnson. The GOP witnesses for the mining panel are a mining lobbyist and two mining executives. The Democratic witness is Reno Franklin, chair of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians and a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

MOVEMENT MOVES: Katie Thomas, climate advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is the new Director of Energy and Environment Programs at the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. Aria Kovalovich is joining the staff at the Senate Committee on the Budget, under Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), focusing on corporate oversight and accountability. Osha Davidson is now a contributing writer at Sierra Magazine.

A post shared by Reno van Dijk (@renovdijk)

Finally: Learn how carnivorous oyster mushrooms poison the roundworms on which they feed.

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