Senate climate bill: What’s inside for wild places

Staff and interns at Senate Climate Bill launch with Senator Merkley (D-OR).

There’s a joke here in town that D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people; meaning that the celebrities we see out on the town are not beautiful movie stars, but rather average looking politicians and appointees. Well, it felt like a red carpet event this morning in the shadow of the Capitol dome as a team of Wilderness Society staff and interns gathered with over a hundred other supporters for the release of the Senate’s clean energy and climate bill.

Standing on stage with veterans and other notables, Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry officially unveiled the Clean Energy Jobs & American Power Act — with a star-studded cast including Senators Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, Mark Udall, Benjamin Cardin, Frank Lautenberg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse and Amy Klobuchar.

Today marks the beginning of a long fight in the Senate for a bill that will put us on the right course for reducing dangerous heat-trapping pollution and building a clean energy economy. Of note, the Clean Energy Jobs bill goes beyond the House-passed climate and jobs bill (known as ACES) in two key areas:

  • The 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets are bumped up from 17% of 2005 levels to 20% (meaning a lot less pollution will be dumped into our skies).
  • The EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution is retained (meaning the Agency can still exercise its Supreme Court-approved authority as a backstop).

Managing Climate Change Impacts on Land and Wildlife

In addition to the many provisions that will jumpstart clean energy development and deployment of energy efficient technologies, The Clean Energy Jobs bill also contains important provisions for coping with the current and ongoing effects of global warming on our natural resources.

As you know, global warming is already impacting treasured landscapes across the country. As temperatures and precipitation patterns shift, landscapes and communities will come under increasing stress. Resource managers need additional resources to monitor changes and devise and implement coordinated strategies that build ecosystem resilience in a warming world.

Under the heading “Climate Change Safeguards for Natural Resources Conservation,” the Clean Energy Jobs bill outlines a national strategy for addressing impacts from global warming on our public lands as well as a distribution scheme for state and federal agencies.

Taking into consideration the fact that different agencies have different areas of expertise, and the reality that ecosystems do not recognize agency jurisdictions, the bill calls for a national adaptation strategy that coordinates a multi-agency response to the impacts of climate change. From CEQ to FWS to EPA to BLM, an alphabet soup of key agencies will be charged with hammering out how best to cope with the impacts of climate change on our nations wildlands.

Additionally, states are to complete adaptation strategies that must be approved by corresponding federal agencies — further building upon the focus on planning and coordinated implementation. Integrating the latest science into resource management decisions is at the core of the Natural Resources Adaptation section — as evidenced by the legislation’s requirement that the USGS’ National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and NOAA’s National Climate Service work together to provide decision-makers with information necessary to address the effects of climate change.

Absent from this draft is any auction allowance allocation for natural resource funding — which will be hashed out during the markup process and subsequent floor debate. The Wilderness Society will continue working to ensure these provisions get funded.

photo: Staff and interns at Senate Climate Bill launch with Senator Merkley (D-OR).