Chellie Pingree: Build Back Better is central to U.S. leadership on climate change globally
As the United Nations Climate Summit continues its second week in Glasgow, a new report finds that temperatures will rise 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That's well over the 1.5 degrees aimed for in the talks, and considered the limit needed to protect the world from widespread devastation and the worst effects of climate change.
Maine U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is part of a delegation of 20 House members visiting the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow. She spoke with Maine Public's Robbie Feinberg by telephone.
Robbie Feinberg: So Congresswoman, some world leaders have already left the conference at this point. But how is the news being received that the world is going to need to do even more to slash emissions than was previously thought? Is there a sense of urgency to do more?
Rep. Chellie Pingree: I think there is a sense of urgency. There's, of course, always resistance to that kind of massive change. And, you know, the negotiations are going on fast and furiously, particularly behind the scenes, so that they can wind up shortly. I don't know that we'll get everything that we believe we need to have. But it's just extremely important that we move forward right now. And I think it's really important that we have a large delegation of members of Congress. And we need to make it very clear that America is back: we're back in the Paris Accords, and we're back at the negotiating table, and we're here in full force.
When you talk about those negotiations, we've heard a lot of pledges over the past week or so describing what countries say that they are going to do to combat climate change. And we've heard some of this at previous summits, too, but we haven't necessarily seen concrete actions and some of those cases to back those pledges up. So how do you think we can guarantee that we will get some real results from this, even as governments and administrations may change?
It's a really important question, and we just had a long meeting with Secretary Kerry and the others who are leading our negotiations here. And there's no question that being able to verify what's going on out there and making sure that countries are really, you know, proclaiming exactly what they're doing, and not just saying they're going to do something. And that's true of the United States as well. It's also critically important that the United States steps up to the plate in terms of investment. We have the biggest impact on climate change - the United States, China and India. But we also have a real obligation to help those countries that are already in deep trouble and don't have the resources to make the changes that they need. So resources are a big issue here, making sure that we have verification is a big issue, and really getting people to commit to large enough pledges so that we're going to make a difference. There's a lot of talk about this is a critical decade, and if we don't move the needle in a big way in this decade, we're going to be on the beyond the opportunity to make significant change
Here in the United States, the House passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last week, it contains $150 billion for advancement of clean energy and adaptation to climate change, and other $73 billion for modernization of the electric grid. But the bill spends more on roads and bridges than on rails and public transit. And it has been criticized by some for perpetuating the use of fossil fuels. As someone who's in Glasgow promoting President Biden's agenda. How do you explain that?
Well, I think it's why so many in Congress, and the President himself, have talked about the critical importance of passing both of these bills. Our second half of this, as you might call it, the Build Back Better Act, has our most significant investments in climate change, from U.S. agriculture to the energy sector through the building sector. I mean, it really is very broad based. And most people look at this, at least from our congressional perspective and say, if we don't do both, we won't leading on climate change. We are not doing enough in the first bill. But combined, they'll be about a trillion dollar investment between the two bills, and that'll be the most significant investment the United States has ever made in moving forward on the climate challenges.
When talking about that built back better budget reconciliation bill, what do you see as the most important measures in that package for the climate?
I'm very focused on the agriculture measures, because I think we have a huge opportunity to shift the way agriculture works in this country to make it more of a net positive in terms of, you know, how we treat our soil, how we deal with so many of the issues that we have in large scale agriculture today that we could really significantly change, and we know how to go about doing it. So that is critically important, as well as the, you know, electrification of the grid, really changing the grid, making major investments in terms of solar, wind power, renewable energy research, there's a significant amount of money there in storage. One of the most important things about renewable is that we develop the storage systems, the efficient batteries that we're going to need going into the future. So there's a very broad range in there. There's a fair amount in terms of what we call the natural climate solutions, forestry, agriculture, the things where we could sequester more carbon by doing the right thing in the environment, and those are real net positives for the United States, and for Maine.
The reconciliation bill has still been held up by some centrist Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, from Maine's 2nd District. How optimistic are you that that bill is going to pass?
You know, you can never be 100% confident of anything in Congress, but I think we have a serious commitment from Democrats across the spectrum. We may have to negotiate a little bit more, but we will get this bill passed, we'll get it across the finish line. Our goal is to do that in November, maybe even the next couple of weeks. And remember, you know, that makes significant investments in the climate change challenges, but it also has tremendous support for working families, for childcare for pre-K. So it has a little bit of something that everybody cares about, and I'm sure we're going to move it.
In general, what are your hopes for the final days of the climate summit?
I hope that we have some really significant promises. I hope that the United States leads the way in many of these things. I hope that we have a commitment from the major players, the ones that represent about 85% of the damage that's being done to our climate right now. I hope there are significant investments in supporting those countries that need our help. I hope we see a broad range of principles and commitments that come out of this. And I feel confident we're gonna move the needle far farther than we ever had before.