WASHINGTON — President Biden has framed this moment as the country’s best chance to save the planet.
“The nation and the world are in peril,” he said weeks ago in Queens, where 11 people drowned in their basement apartments after floodwaters from Hurricane Ida devastated communities from Louisiana to New York. “And that’s not hyperbole. That is a fact. They’ve been warning us the extreme weather would get more extreme over the decade, and we’re living in it real time now.”
Mr. Biden’s plan to try to fortify the United States against extreme weather — and cut the carbon dioxide emissions that are heating the Earth and fueling disasters — is embedded in two pieces of legislation pending on Capitol Hill. The future of both bills remains in question, with tension between moderate and progressive Democrats over the size and scope of many details.
Together, they contain what would be the most significant climate action ever taken by the United States. Because Democrats could lose control of Congress after 2022 and Republicans have shown little interest in climate legislation, it could be years before another opportunity arises — a delay that scientists say the planet cannot afford.
The climate provisions are designed to quickly transform energy and transportation, the country’s two largest sources of greenhouse gases, from systems that now mostly burn gas, oil and coal to sectors that run increasingly on clean energy from the sun, wind and nuclear power.
The impact will touch a broad cross-section of American life, from the kinds of cars that Americans drive, to the types of crops grown by farmers, to the way homes are heated and buildings are constructed. One measure could shutter virtually all of the nation’s remaining coal plants, forcing sweeping change in communities dependent on mining but also, one study estimated, preventing as many as 50,000 premature deaths from pollution by 2030. And other measures would provide billions to replant in national forests, repair trails for hikers and clear brush to reduce the risk of wildfire.
“Each time you let these opportunities slip through your fingers, you’re passing a much harder problem on to the next generation,” said Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology and mother of four. “It’s a very hard thing to swallow that we are relegating children born today and not yet born to a future of dangerous climate impacts.”
The United States has contributed more to global warming than any other nation, and the action it takes will be felt well beyond its borders. Falling short would hamstring Mr. Biden next month, when he is expected to attend a major U.N. climate summit in Scotland to try to convince other world leaders to take stronger climate action.
“The whole world is watching,” said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a climate adviser for the United Nations Secretary General. “If these bills don’t come to…