'The U.S. has one hand tied': Casten describes mixed reception at U.N. climate summit

A congressional delegation member attending the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove described a mixed reception for the Americans at the conclave.

On one hand, world leaders at the Glasgow summit were happy Casten and other U.S. lawmakers were stepping up to lead the fight against ecological disaster.

But on the other, they knew American investment in the issue could change dramatically if Republicans gain control of Congress next year or if a different president wins the White House in 2024.

“The rest of the world tragically understands there is no bipartisan commitment to act on climate change,” said Casten, a Democrat representing the 6th District who was the only member of the congressional delegation from Illinois. “The U.S. has one hand tied behind (its) back.”

But Casten said he and the other House delegates are doing their best to follow through on promises made during the conference to enact legislation mitigating climate change.

Examples of that commitment can be seen in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed into law this month.

It includes funding for an existing Casten-backed law aimed at reducing industrial carbon emissions, such as those resulting from steel or cement production.

It also includes $1 billion for research and development of clean energy storage technology on a grid scale. Casten and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Naperville were among the sponsors of that original legislation.

“The battery technology is not there yet, but it's improving by leaps and bounds,” said Casten, who worked in the green energy industry before being elected to Congress.

Casten is even more excited about the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, which the House passed with much hoopla this month.

The legislation includes an array of tax incentives designed to encourage people to buy electric vehicles, increase the network of charging stations for those vehicles, reduce methane pollution and even create a new energy grid capable of delivering clean energy throughout the country.

In all, the proposal includes $550 billion in clean energy tax credits to be doled out over 10 years.

Casten called it the most impactful climate legislation in U.S. history.

“We have never done anything remotely at that scale before,” he said. “And as big as that is, it isn't enough.”

Because the legislation was crafted with Senate concerns in mind, Casten is confident it will clear the Senate and make it to Biden's desk. But what form it will take is unknown at this point, Casten said.

“It ain't done until it's done,” he said.

Looking back, Casten said the Glasgow conference was a much more positive and constructive experience than the 2019 U.N. conference he attended in Madrid. That gathering occurred during President Donald Trump's administration and after Trump announced his intent to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Casten recalled what an envoy from the European Union told him in Madrid: “Bad things happen when the U.S. doesn't lead.”

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U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, center in blue suit, and other members of the American delegation listen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, right, during the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland. Courtesy of U.S. Rep. Sean Casten
U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, second from right, poses with other attendees at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland. Courtesy of U.S. Rep. Sean Casten
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