The bipartisan infrastructure bill advancing in Congress would provide tens of billions of dollars to help cities and states protect against the effects of climate change, the most in U.S. history.
One of the biggest proponents of addressing climate “resilience” was Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, an oil- and gas-producing state experiencing a sea-level rise caused by global warming.
Cassidy worked with President Joe Biden to ensure the legislation included federal money to protect against floods, reduce damage from wildfires, and even relocate communities away from vulnerable places.
He was one in a bipartisan group of 10 senators who negotiated the infrastructure agreement with the White House.
It is no small feat that Cassidy succeeded in convincing members of his party to back this effort. The bill is expected to pass with the votes of more than 10 Republicans and has been met with supportive comments from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a huge coal state.
His success shows congressional Republicans more readily accept the need to adapt to climate change than mitigate its cause — emissions caused by fossil fuels — which are disproportionately produced in districts and states represented by the GOP.
To make his case, Cassidy said he presented a slideshow to the Senate Republican conference plastered with photographs showing properties and shorelines damaged by sea-level rise and erosion.
“One of the things I used to persuade people in my caucus about the benefit of the overall bill is I showed flooding in Upper Missouri. We showed the shoreline in North Carolina, which from 1848 until now has lost some 500 feet of shoreline,” Cassidy told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “So, you formerly had a house which, in the far distance, over the dunes, you could see the ocean, and now, you have waves lapping up on the street in front of your house.”
Another photo captured how Port Fourchon in Louisiana had succumbed to erosion caused by sea-level rise.
“At one point, it was part of the mainland. There’s been so much erosion, it’s now like a peninsula,” Cassidy said.
“I showed those pictures and said what we are proposing would help address all those situations and more,” he added.
This summer, negotiations over infrastructure have occurred as extreme weather has throttled the American West, including massive wildfires, record high temperatures, and a megadrought, events that scientists say were worsened by climate change.
That comes after 22 extreme weather disasters struck the United States last year, causing a total of early $100 billion in damage, according to a White House fact sheet marking the climate resiliency measures in the infrastructure bill.
Cassidy touted provisions of the legislation that address adaptation to climate impacts.
The Army Corps of Engineers received a record amount of construction funds for flood control and river dredging projects.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency got $2.5 billion to reduce the damage of floods, Cassidy said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided more than $500 million to improve its coastal flooding and wildfire forecasts.
There is $3.5 billion dedicated for weatherization that state housing authorities can use to keep lower-income homes cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
There is even money given to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for “community relocation” to help tribal nations hurt by climate change move from dangerous areas.
“On multiple levels, we are doing something about all of this,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy said the resiliency measures and other provisions boosting clean energy deployment as part of the infrastructure bill were originally not part of negotiations.
Cassidy said that a group of Republican senators led by Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia that initially started talks with Biden focused primarily on “hard infrastructure” such as roads and bridges.
After Biden pulled from those talks without a deal, Cassidy’s bipartisan group took over.
Cassidy said Biden soon called him on the phone.
“He said the problem with everything he had seen so far was there was nothing for resiliency or energy,” Cassidy said. “What he liked about our [proposal] is that we did.”
Liberals and environmental activists were critical of the end product, saying it did not forcefully attack climate change.
But Cassidy said Republicans agreed to include some of Biden’s key priorities, such as spending $7.5 billion to build a network of electric vehicle chargers across the country and creating a $5 billion program to combat methane emissions by employing oil workers to plug leaking “orphan” oil and gas wells.
Cassidy, a member of the Senate Energy Committee, insisted the bill makes progress on cutting emissions, making the planet warmer, not just adapting to climate change already happening.
The bipartisan bill would fully fund more than a dozen clean energy demonstration projects authorized initially under the Energy Act of 2020 approved at the end of last year, including energy storage, advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture, direct air capture, and renewables.
Cassidy also fought to include a measure he co-sponsored with Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat of Delaware, offering low-interest loans for pipelines to transport captured carbon dioxide. Another program he promoted would provide $8 billion to create regional hubs focused on developing and commercializing hydrogen. This versatile clean energy source could be used as a fuel in emissions-intensive sectors such as heavy-duty trucking, marine shipping, and industrial manufacturing.
“I would argue we have things in there which quite openly are designed to decrease the carbon intensity of our economy,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy warned Biden and Democrats against pursuing more aggressive policies that would harm fossil fuels as part of a subsequent larger legislative package sought without Republicans. Instead, Democrats are looking to expand tax subsidies for renewable energy and electric vehicles while paying utilities to use more zero-carbon electricity.
“The president told us he wouldn’t be taking two bites at the apple, so if they put in provisions regarding climate, that violates the spirit of what the president obligated to us,” Cassidy said.
But Cassidy stressed Republicans would continue to cooperate on climate mitigation and adaptation policies on a bipartisan basis.
He cited the importance of maintaining economic competitiveness with regions of the world that are more aggressively regulating emissions, such as the European Union.
“What I hear loud and clear from companies in my state is that to be sure they will continue to have access to the European Union as an export market, they need to have products which are net-zero carbon,” Cassidy said. “We won’t be anywhere close to that at the end of this [legislation], but we will be dramatically improved.”