Jennifer Pagan, left, sprays water on friends from an open fire hydrant in The Bronx section of New York, Friday, July 22, 2022. Dangerously high temperatures threatened much of the Northeast and Deep South as millions of Americans sought comfort from air-conditioners, fire hydrants, fountains and cooling centers. The heat wave is expected to extend into the weekend. Credit: Seth Wenig

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Two-thirds of Americans faced temperatures in the 90s this past weekend. Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, is shrinking at a rapid rate, which will upend water policy in the western U.S.

In London, where temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit last week and rain had not fallen in more than a month, wildfires burned in the city. Wildfires also burned across the European mainland from Portugal to Poland. Thousands have died in Europe, where few homes have air conditioning.

This is only a partial list of the climate-related problems around the world in recent days, and such disasters are becoming more common and widespread.

So, it is especially disheartening now to watch the political dysfunction in Washington, around climate change and many other issues.

The problem is that our political leaders have repeatedly shown they are not up to the challenge. This is not a new problem. The dangers of climate change have been known for decades, but most governments have been slow to respond.

Here’s just one example. Last week, Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, was the target of ire from many on the political left after he said he couldn’t support the latest iteration of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan because of rising inflation. Manchin had been in talks with Democratic leaders for months about supporting the $2 trillion spending plan, which included investments to address climate change.

Two things: First, Manchin, who represents a state that has been heavily reliant on the mining and sale of coal and who has personally profited from coal, deserves blame for standing in the way of legislation that could help reduce America’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels. But, so too do the Republicans who also oppose Build Back Better and other climate change efforts.

Second, it has been clear for months that Build Back Better did not have the votes needed to pass the Senate, so Democrats aimed to enact it through a process called reconciliation, which requires only 51 affirmative votes.

This maneuvering – and the need to gain Manchin’s support – highlights the overall failure of Congress – mostly the Senate – to address the critical issues of the day. Given the growing dangers, and costs of climate change, it should be possible to pass a bill to address this real and present threat through the typical Senate process, which is not expedited or restricted like the reconciliation process

The fact that it is not is a damning assessment of the state of lawmaking in America.

As even the Supreme Court recently noted, failure of Congress to act on “major questions” has left a vacuum of policies and rules on climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency filled this void with rules on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. In a recent decision – in a case brought by the state of West Virginia – the court ruled that Congress had not given the EPA the authority to impose such rules.

The court’s conservative majority was criticized for this ruling, but again, the blame for federal inaction on climate rests mostly with Congress.

Biden, who has COVID, could declare a national climate emergency. He is being pushed to do so by a group of House members, including Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree. This would enable the White House to take some actions through executive order. Last week, White House officials suggested that executive action, short of an emergency order, may be forthcoming. This may be helpful, although court challenges to such actions could delay any substantive action.

To be fair, greenhouse gas emissions are generally declining in the U.S. as businesses and consumers switch to greener forms of energy. But, these declines are too slow to meet domestic and international goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions to deter the worst impacts of climate change.

Without comprehensive action from U.S. lawmakers to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, the consequences of climate change will become harder and harder to avoid. They are already harder, if not impossible, to deny.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...