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New US Senate Majority Leader pledges action on climate

21 January 2021 Amena Saiyid

US Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, wasted no time in pledging action on climate change shortly after taking over the reins of the chamber as Majority Leader.

"And make no mistake, the Senate will forcefully, consistently and urgently address the greatest threat to this country and our planet, climate change," Schumer said 20 January in his first speech as the leader of the Senate.

Schumer took his cue from newly sworn in President Joe Biden, a Democrat, who signed an order to recommit the US to the non-binding 2015 Paris Agreement on climate. Biden has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon levels across the US economy by midcentury. To reach that goal though he will need both regulation and legislation.

"President Biden, we hear you loud and clear," Schumer said.

The election of two Democrats from Georgia gave Democrats a razor-thin majority in the Senate, which was under the control of Republicans who had been blocking efforts to address climate change since they wrested control in January 2015.

In 2019, a Republican-controlled Senate defeated a resolution to have a vote on the Democrats' Green New Deal. The resolution sought to recognize widespread climate change impacts, such as wildfires and hurricanes, and to encourage the federal government to wean the country off its reliance on fossil fuels and toward renewables. The US House of Representatives passed a bill that contained elements of the Green New Deal in it, but the Senate never took it up.

Schumer outlined the Democratic agenda for the Senate, saying the chamber would conduct its business differently, and not shy away from the challenges that the country faces or provide "timid solutions."

"In the wake of violence and division, hatred and mistruth, in the shadow of disease and economic hardship, a warming planet and unequal society, we begin the work of the 117th Congress," he added.

At the same time, Schumer told his Republican colleagues that Democrats would "when and where we can" strive for bipartisanship.

In response, Senator Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky), who now assumes the position of Minority Leader, did not respond to Schumer's pledge to work on climate change during his turn to address the chamber. Instead, McConnell focused on Biden's pledge to be "a president for all Americans" and to work as hard for the millions of Americans who did not support his candidacy. "Our country deserves for both sides, both parties, to find common ground for the common good everywhere that we can and disagree respectfully where we must," he said.

However, a day later McConnell didn't mince his words about "the wrong direction" the Biden administration is taking in rejoining the Paris Accord.

"The President reentered the failed Paris climate agreement, a terrible bargain that would set us up to self-inflict major economic pain on working American families with no assurance that China or Russia would honor their commitments," McConnell said in a 21 January floor speech.

Following Biden's announcement of rejoining the Paris Accord, Republicans staked out their opposition in various ways.

Senator Steve Daines, Republican-Montana, indicated plans to introduce a resolution that would require the Senate to advise and, more importantly, consent to the global treaty before the US can official rejoin. As of 22 January, the resolution hadn't been filed.

Signing onto the resolution were other Republican Senators John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, both of Wyoming, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Jerry Moran and Robert Marshall, both of Kansas.

Barrasso warned Biden that joining would lead to higher US energy prices. His statement came on his last day as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Senator Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas), who challenged Biden's electoral win, regurgitated an argument that President Donald Trump made in 2017 when he first announced his plans to leave the accord—that Democrats were giving more interested in the views of Parisians than in jobs for citizens of Pittsburgh, a city that has already committed to halving its carbon emissions by 2030, and cutting them by 80% by 2050.

The comment by Cruz, which he also was tweeted out, drew a sharp rebuke on social media from Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat-New York, who asked, "do you also believe the Geneva Convention was about the views of the citizens of Geneva?"

Representative James Comer (Republican-Kentucky), who serves as the top Republican on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the Paris Agreement was a disaster for the US because it would give China an edge over the US.

"The United States has proven we can grow our economy and energy sectors while also reducing carbon emissions," Comer said in a 20 January statement. "Instead of rejoining a flawed agreement, America should continue to innovate and harness our full energy potential to create a more clean, affordable, and diverse supply."

Posted 21 January 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate & Energy Research Analyst, IHS Markit

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