Five Decades In The Making: Why It Took Congress So Long To Act On Climate

In 1969, President Richard Nixon’s adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a memo describing a startling future. The increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by burning oil, gas and coal, Mr. Moynihan wrote, would dangerously heat the planet. Fifty-three years later, Congress is on the cusp of finally responding to what Mr. Moynihan termed “the carbon dioxide problem.” On Sunday, Senate Democrats muscled through a $370billion bill designed to move the country away from fossil fuels and toward solar, wind and other renewable energy. If the House passes the legislation later this week as expected, it will be the nation’s first major climate law. Veterans of the nation’s failed attempts at climate legislation pointed to a shift in strategy, which set aside what experts consider the most efficient way to cut carbon dioxide emissions, a tax on pollution, for the less-effective but more politically palatable approach of monetary incentives to industries and consumers to switch to clean energy. Without putting a price on carbon pollution, it will be difficult for the United States to meet its net zero 2050 goal, experts say. The final bill includes a modest short-term fee for excess methane, a potent greenhouse gas, emitted from oil or gas operations. But lawmakers abandoned a carbon tax, at least for now. Still, most Democrats called it a critical first step.

By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman. New York Times. August 8, 2022.

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