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Sen. King says pared down spending bills would be 'most significant climate legislation' in US history

Angus King
Greg Nash
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asks questions during a Senate Armed Services Committee on May 6, 2020.

President Joe Biden heads to Scotland Sunday for the COP26 climate summit. He left Washington urging Congress to approve a $1.75 trillion budget framework — which includes $550 billion in climate change initiatives he hopes we'll give him a strong hand heading into the Glasgow summit.

Morning Edition Host Irwin Gratz spoke with Maine U.S. Senator Angus King, who serves on the senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He's hopeful that climate provisions in the Democrats' proposed spending bill will move the U.S. forward in its efforts to reduce global warming, even as he thinks it's unfortunate some provisions have been cut.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Sen. Angus King: Well, I think there are a lot of provisions that are in it that it looks like they're headed for passage once we can resolve all the other surrounding issues.

A very significant set of ongoing tax incentives for clean energy, and they get us about 75% of the way to the goal that the President set for 2030. There are also provisions in the infrastructure bill that's pending in the house for upgrading the transmission grid, for support for electric vehicles and charging facilities.

And then finally, the piece that, frankly, doesn't get much publicity, but I think is the most important, and that is really significant federal support for research on storage. Once we have energy storage on the grid scale, then we can go to straight renewables in the power sector, and that's really the answer. And so I think the President's going to go with a strong hand to Glasgow.

Irwin Gratz: But as you know, of course, there was the the proposal, his clean electricity performance program that word is it is got dropped because of the opposition of Senator Joe Manchin?

That's true, and that was a major provision, and Joe Manchin, it was just a bridge too far for him. He's been surprisingly forward-leaning on environmental and climate issues this year, as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. But as I say, I think this one was one where he felt that the transition to clean energy in the energy sector was happening anyway, and that this bill was a very expensive part of the of the package, and wouldn't really further the ball that much.

Now I think that the provision would have worked and would have helped. But that doesn't mean we're left with no climate provisions. When you combine what's in what will be, I hope, in this bill, and what's in the infrastructure bill that we passed a couple of months ago, it'll be the most significant climate legislation, I think, ever

Any idea of what the President should perhaps be seeking from other world leaders at the summit next week?

I think the important thing is to reiterate the original Paris goals, but perhaps to make them more stringent and start a report card program where people know how their country is doing.

One of the problems here is, and I remember dealing with this in terms of clean air, when I was in Augusta, that, you know, we could shut off all of our sources and quit emitting CO2 tomorrow, but if China and India keep building coal plants at the rate of one a month, we ain't going to solve the problem because the molecules of CO2 don't care about international borders. So this has to be an international solution.

And it's got to be one where particularly the major emitters, which right now are the US, China, India, and the EU, all work together and all understand that everybody's got a stake in resolving this issue, because the effects of climate change are going to be felt all over the world. And so it's got to be an international solution.

That's why I think getting some of this legislation enacted in the next week will help the President, because we can't ask countries to do things that we're not willing to do ourselves.