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Rural utilities won't even have to teach CRT, so it's quite the deal.
The Biden administration is rolling out another part of its effort to speed up America's transition to renewable energy, announcing Tuesday that $11 billion in grants and loans are now available to rural areas to ditch old inefficient fossil fuel plants and replace them with affordable clean energy.
The aid comes in the form of two Department of Agriculture programs: The "Empowering Rural America" or “New ERA” program will provide $9.7 billion in grants for rural electric cooperatives to "deploy renewable energy systems, zero-emission and carbon capture systems," and the "Powering Affordable Clean Energy" (PACE) loan program that will provide another billion dollars in partly forgivable loans to a range of rural and tribal energy entities to "help finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower projects and energy storage in support of renewable energy systems."
The administration has been very diligent in pointing out that this is the biggest federal investment in rural energy infrastructure since Franklin D. Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Act in 1936, although the announcements have also been fairly careful not to put the words "green" and "New Deal" anywhere near each other.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release,
The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to cleaner energy provides rural communities with an affordable and reliable power grid, while supporting thousands of new jobs and helping lower energy costs in the future. These investments will also combat climate change and significantly reduce air and water pollution that put children’s health at risk.
The funding for the two programs comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and is just one of a series of interconnected strategies to finally get the USA off the fossil fuel teat and transition to a clean energy economy. The two programs start accepting letters of interest in June and July, and once the grants start going out to help build clean energy projects, count on a whole bunch of press releases from Republican members of Congress who'll brag about how they're helping their communities, even though they voted against the infrastructure bill.
The New ERA program for rural electric cooperatives, Vilsack told reporters on a press call,
will help rural electric cooperatives reach parity with private utility companies who have already begun significant investment in clean energy. [...]
"We have a climate crisis that requires all of America to participate in reducing emissions to get to the net-zero future," Vilsack said.
Rural electric co-ops, which currently serve about 42 million Americans, get about 22 percent of their power from renewable sources, so the new funding should help boost that. At a White House event announcing the new programs, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), who chairs the Senate Ag Committee, said the clean energy funding is
"an important piece of how we commit to rural America."
"This is really about saying to people in rural America, we want you to stay there, we want your kids to come home there, and to have a quality of life there," she said.
In the Ag Department news release, the administration notes that the PACE loan program is in keeping with Biden's "Justice40" initiative, which is aimed at making sure 40 percent of the help from climate spending goes to "disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution."
That's been a running theme in Biden's climate policy, because disadvantaged communities have historically been hit the hardest by fossil fuel pollution, and continue to be disproportionately harmed by the effects of climate change. While we're at it, let's give props yet again to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who made environmental justice a central part of his 2020 climate plan, which Biden adopted and has stuck with from the start of his administration.
Also too, this is a good place to remind you all that the Wonkette Book Club is back, and for this Friday, we're going to read the first chapter of Kim Stanley Robinson's 2020 climate novel The Ministry for the Future. You can read more about the book club right here. If the UN ever does establish an agency similar to the novel's imagined ministry, we'd want Jay Inslee running it, please.
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That's weird that they said no!
Since Republicans are pretending to be Very Concerned About the Deficit — as they only are when a Democrat is president — the White House offered Republican leaders in Congress a list of ideas that would help reduce the deficit, primarily by closing tax loopholes that cost the federal government billions in lost revenue.
You will absolutely guess what happened next: The Republicans, who have been demanding massive (but mostly unspecified) cuts to non-defense spending as the price of raising the debt ceiling, "rejected every item" on the list, according to three anonymous "people familiar with the matter," as the Washington Post reports (free gift link):
On a phone call last week, senior White House officials floated about a dozen tax plans to reduce the deficit as part of a broader budget agreement with House Republicans, including a measure aimed at cryptocurrency transactions and another for large real estate investors, two of the people said. They were all swiftly rejected by the GOP aides on the call, the people said.
This is because Republicans don't actually care about reducing government debt; they care about telling people they want to reduce government debt. Debt limit negotiations continue this week, as Democrats work to find a way to prevent the disastrous economic consequences of defaulting on the US national debt, and Republicans work to find a way to force Democrats to accept wholesale dismantling of successful Biden policies by threatening to force a default on the debt.
Previously! On Wonkette!
Two people who are "familiar with the matter," and may or may not be entirely different from those familiar with the loophole thing, said that some kind of budget agreement might include "new limits on federal spending, a clawback of unspent pandemic aid funds and a package of permitting reforms designed to unleash domestic energy production." Those sound at least slightly more plausible than the initial Republican hostage note, which demanded hacking much of nondefense discretionary spending by more than 20 percent. Biden made clear that notion (it was never a "plan") would go nowhere.
The Post also says that the negotiations are being held up by several details, such as how long any spending limits going forward would last. The White House wants only two years of such "caps," while Republicans want to freeze spending for between 10 years and forever and ever. Biden remembers damn well that the last time Republicans threatened to crash the economy for the lulz in 2011, Barack Obama agreed to "sequestration" spending cuts that slowed the recovery from the Great Recession, so damned if Joe wants that again.
Further, while Republicans "appear to have dropped their demands to block student debt relief" (cautious "yay"), they're dead set on ramping up work requirements for federal antipoverty programs, even though most able-bodied working-age adults getting federal assistance are already working and the main effect of work requirements is to kick otherwise eligible people off programs because of paperwork problems, all while making the programs cost more to administer. As with pretending to care about debt, Republicans want to be able to say they got tough on "welfare cheats," and that's all they care about.
The Post says that Biden
told reporters on Sunday that he was open to the GOP’s work requirements proposal, but White House spokesman Michael Kikukawa said in a statement that the president “has also been clear that he will not accept policies that push Americans into poverty.”
Not surprisingly, House Republicans are claiming that the White House proposals amounted to "tax increases," although their actual effect would be to close tax loopholes affecting some investments in cryptocurrency and real estate, as the Post 'splains:
The cryptocurrency proposal would ensure that investors could not claim a loss on an asset that they then quickly repurchased — a rule that already exists for stocks and other assets. Similarly, the real estate proposal would prevent investors from deferring taxes on swaps of property — similar to a rule for stock trades.
The two changes would increase federal revenue by about $40 billion, but treating such investments equally under the tax code would magically make them "tax increases," because words mean nothing and time is a flat circle anyway. And for all the GOP complaints about how the problem is " too much spending," the Post story also points to a recent study by the Center for American Progress showing that were it not for tax cuts forced by the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations, the US would be bringing in enough revenue that "the debt ratio (debt as a percentage of the economy) would be declining."
Why yes, two Republican trifectas in government since 2020 not only gave huge tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations that didn't result in an economic boom and which they don't want to pay for now; they also deepened the very federal debt that Republicans profess to worry about so much.
Add in the 1981 Reagan tax cuts, and for the first time since 1946, the debt ratio began rising, not falling. The Bush II and Trump tax cuts have so hobbled the government's ability to pay its debts that
federal debt as a percentage of the U.S. economy is on a path to grow indefinitely, with increased noninterest spending due to demographic changes such as increasing life expectancy, declining fertility, and decreased immigration and rising health care costs permanently outstripping revenues under projections based on current law.
It ain't spending that's doing that, either: The study notes that "relative to earlier projections, spending is down, not up. But revenues are down significantly more."
On the other hand, billionaires are making out like bandits, so we should probably tighten your belt to sustain that, the fucking end.
Yr Wonkette is funded entirely by reader donations, so if you can, please help out with a monthly $5 or $10 donation.
Also, speaking of shit we need to fix, don't forget to grab a copy of Kim Stanley Robinson's climate odyssey The Ministry for the Future and read the first chapter by Friday for our first Wonkette Book Club discussion of the novel, coming Friday.
Stop it, Joe Manchin, we will pull this yacht over right now!
The Biden administration rolled out yet another piece of its climate plan today, as the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations to limit the greenhouse gases emitted by electric power plants fueled by coal and methane (so-called "natural" gas). As the New York Times puts it in an admirably simple and accurate sentence,
The nation’s 3,400 coal- and gas-fired power plants currently generate about 25 percent of greenhouse gases produced by the United States, pollution that is dangerously heating the planet.
Instead of mandating any particular technology, the rules set caps on rates of carbon dioxide pollution that plants can release, leaving it up to energy producers to find ways to meet the goal of eliminating CO2 emissions by 2040. If industry can find ways to capture all CO2 from smokestacks — technology that doesn't exist yet — then great. But it's more likely that utilities would have to switch to green energy, or for gas plants, to burning green hydrogen (the kind produced without fossil fuels), which emits no carbon.
And while the EPA doesn't say it, we're happy to: The faster the US and the world adopt solar and wind electricity, the cheaper that electricity will be per megawatt hour. According to an Oxford University study published in September, a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to wind and solar could save the world $12 trillion by 2050, which would help offset other costs of the transition like grid upgrades and developing reliable storage/backup/distribution of clean energy. Going slow, on the other hand, will cost more and result in greater climate caused damage.
The EPA press release says the regulations will
avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States. Through 2042, EPA estimates the net climate and health benefits of the standards on new gas and existing coal-fired power plants are up to $85 billion.
The EPA emphasizes the public health benefits of not burning all that stuff, which doesn't just contribute to global warming but releases nasties like particulates, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides into the air Americans breathe, especially in communities nearest to power plants, which tend to be home to poor and minority people because America. In addition to helping to keep the planet more habitable for large mammals like gazelles and the NCAA Final Four champion men's and women's teams, the proposed standards would mean huge health gains. In 2030 alone, the EPA says, cleaner air resulting from the new standards would prevent
• approximately 1,300 premature deaths;
• more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits;
• more than 300,000 cases of asthma attacks;
• 38,000 school absence days; [and]
• 66,000 lost workdays.
Under the new rules, virtually all coal and methane gas plants would be required to either reduce or capture 90 percent of their carbon emissions by 2038, or shut down. Currently, roughly a quarter of American coal plants are already scheduled to be retired by 2029, per the US Energy Information Agency.
Needless to say, industry groups and Republican state officials are at this very moment working on the first drafts of legal challenges to the policy, written as is traditional with the congealed blood of seals and dolphins killed by oil spills. The Times reports that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) is already declaring the EPA plan DOA in the courts, whining that "It is not going to be upheld, and it just seems designed to scare more coal-fired power plants into retirement — the goal of the Biden administration." Stupid not-wanting-climate-catastrophe Biden!
Sen. Joe Manchin ("D"-West Virginia), whose family fortune is built on selling some of the filthiest coal available — a mining waste slurry called "gob" coal that's particularly carbon intensive — also threatened today that he will oppose any new Biden appointees to the EPA unless the plan is dropped. Manchin griped that the administration is
"determined to advance its radical climate agenda and has made it clear they are hellbent on doing everything in their power to regulate coal- and gas-fueled power plants out of existence, no matter the cost to energy security and reliability."
Also, fuck the future, the man has money at stake, and he hasn't spent a career lining his own nest with filthy feathers from crows with black lung disease just to watch it all go away because people in the tropical regions think they "deserve" to live.
So yeah, kids, this is going to be a fight between the wealthy bastards who want to keep pumping the atmosphere full of planet-heating pollutants, and the first president ever whose administration is actually taking the action needed to get close to meeting the US's commitments to decarbonization by midcentury, which all nations need to do in order to hold warming to non-catastrophic levels.
When you combine the anticipated greenhouse gas reductions from the EPA's recent vehicle emissions standards, its methane reduction standards, and the power plant emissions standards announced today, the Times reports, the total emissions that would be eliminated would be around 15 billion tons of CO2 by 2055, or
roughly the amount of pollution generated by the entire United States economy over three years. Several analyses have projected that the Inflation Reduction Act will cut emissions by at least another billion tons by 2030.
That could put the nation on track to meet Mr. Biden’s pledge that the United States would cut its greenhouse gases in half by 2030 and stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by 2050, although analysts point out that more policies will need to be enacted to reach the latter target.
And that, children, puts the world within what I'll call realistic hoping distance of actually meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting warming since the start of the industrial age to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It would require all countries doing the same as or better than the Biden plan is close to accomplishing, so yeah, that's freaking difficult. But doable, genuinely doable, according to the climate boffins. The Times again:
“Each of these several regulations from the E.P.A. are contributing to the whole picture that is necessary to steer this ocean liner away from the worst climate disaster,” said Dallas Burtraw, an economist with Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research organization that focuses on energy and environmental policy.
Also I just remembered that we were going to do some kind of Wonkette Book Club on Kim Stanley Robinson's 2020 climate novel The Ministry for the Future (Wonkette-gets-a-cut link), so I guess I'd better actually make a plan and write it up for tomorrow, damn my eyes.
Let's choose hope. But back it up with action.
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