Democrats and climate activists try to come back after Manchin coup

“I find it hard to envision what single elected official in American history will do more to cause more massive suffering,” Sam Ricketts, co-founder and co-director of environmental group Evergreen Action, said after news of Manchin’s rejection broke Thursday night. “There are many examples, but if you want to look decades ahead, this decision by this West Virginia senator will have repercussions that will affect millions, if not billions.”

Democrats have struggled for months to pass a lean climate and energy package as part of a budget reconciliation bill that would require the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, including Manchin. He previously said he could reach a climate deal whether the legislation included elements favoring both renewable energy and fossil fuels.

But Manchin informed the Senate Majority Leader chuck schumer on Thursday that he would not support climate and energy investments before the August recess, and his office raised concerns about inflation in a statement.

Manchin on Friday disputed reports that he had walked away from the talks altogether, saying instead he was waiting for inflation figures from July to make a decision and insisting that Democrats could still vote on a reconciliation package with climate provisions in September.. But that has passed the July deadline that Schumer had set, and it’s forcing Democrats to choose between striking a deal now to cut prescription drug costs or waiting for a bigger bill in September.

“I can’t make this decision basically on taxes of any kind and also on energy and climate because it takes the taxes to pay for the clean tech investment that I’m in favor of,” Manchin said during from a radio interview. on West Virginia’s MetroNews. “But I’m not going to do something and go overboard that causes more problems.”

Manchin’s Democratic colleagues, however, doubt his intentions and prefer to vote on a bill before the August recess, given that members will focus on campaigning for November’s midterm elections. after that.

“It’s hard to be optimistic that there’s a way to get a yes with Senator Manchin on emissions cuts and clean energy given the last year and a half,” said the senator. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said in an interview. “Sen. Manchin joins all Republicans in stopping efforts to reduce emissions and accelerate this transition to clean energy. It’s his legacy. I believe there needs to be accountability for this in the ballot boxes.

representing Sean Casten (D-Ill.) also cast doubt on September’s passing prospects.

“Given the possibility of meeting the urgent needs of the country, you can always count on Senator Manchin not to decide and to postpone a decision. I have no reason to think it will end,” he said in an interview. “If you choose not to decide, you still haven’t made a choice.”

Manchin had already killed off an older, larger iteration of the party line package late last year, even after other Democrats began dismantling it to accommodate the senator’s demands. Those concessions included scrapping a program — a key Smith priority — that, among other provisions, would have given money to utilities that provide more clean energy and imposed penalties on those that don’t.

What remained largely intact was a broad set of clean energy tax incentives designed to expand and extend long-term subsidies for renewable energy and emerging technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture and small nuclear reactors. The Democrats had recently removed subsidies a mechanism it would make it easier for companies to access federal incentives by receiving direct payments rather than tax incentives, and it seemed the remaining sticking point revolved around incentives for electric vehicles.

Still, people familiar with the negotiations had expressed optimism in recent days that Democrats were close to reaching a deal on clean energy provisions. Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement late Thursday that “nearly all climate and energy issues have been resolved.”

Manchin said in the Friday radio interview that speaks had been “good”, with staffs working diligently over the past few months. Still, Manchin appeared to be downgrading on the package earlier this week amid a historic rise in inflation, telling reporters Wednesday that anything Democrats spend needs to be “scrubbed” to make sure it doesn’t. is not inflationary.

representing Count Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, responded Friday that the provisions included in the package would help fight inflation over time.

“If we abandon the approach we have taken, we will lose markets internationally and fall further behind,” he said in an interview. “At the end of the day, having these provisions makes the economy stronger.”

The news of Manchin’s rejection also left environmental activists and Democrats picking up the pieces to try to find a potential path to reducing emissions. Without congressional action, however, Biden’s goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gases 50-52% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade appears to be slipping away.

“We will be on the wrong track and have no plan to limit warming to the degree necessary,” said Leah Stokes, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who worked with Democrats on the climate provisions of the reconciliation package. “I’m sure the Biden administration will use every regulatory tool in the toolbox and use every executive action possible, but at the end of the day, we need Congress to act. But a senator who is clearly in bed with the fossil fuel industry is condemning generations of Americans on this planet to a broken Earth, including his own grandchildren.

With no further policy action, a Rhodium Group report this week found the US is falling short of its targets and is on track to cut emissions just 24% to 35% below levels. from 2005 by 2030. Scientists have said that’s too little to prevent global warming from reaching catastrophic levels.

“As we come together, it is clear that there is no giving up on the climate crisis and there is no giving up on the ability of humans to adapt and recover. major challenges. But the path is much harder,” said Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environmental policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Manchin’s decision also appeared to leave the administration grappling with what should be next. “It’s more of a sort of reassessment day,” said a federal agency official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

John Podesta, founder and chairman of the Center for American Progress, said the administration had already developed an action plan ahead of last year’s international climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, which it should now try. to implement.

“They need to dust that off,” he said. “The tragedy here, of course, is that everything becomes more difficult, less profitable without this investment package.”

Talks are also expected to start rolling on a possible package of tax extensions to save existing clean energy subsidies. But that would require the cooperation of Republicans, an unlikely prospect.

“It’s hard for me to see a lot of incentive to help save Democrats from themselves this close to the election,” the senator said. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a Republican who participated in bipartisan energy and climate policy talks with Manchin earlier this year.

Climate activists are also urging Biden to expand his reliance on executive action and shut the door on fossil fuel projects, such as ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project in Alaska and plans for a new energy program. offshore drilling, both of which had emerged as potential compromises. for Manchin’s support.

“Drilling decisions being made right now relate to development and production years, if not a decade into the future,” Goldfuss said.

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said lawmakers also need to claw back as much of the clean energy tax package as possible, whether through the reconciliation bill. existing or other legislative vehicle, or else risk blocking the growth of renewable energy.

“The renewable energy tax incentives are being phased out and largely phased out in the current tax code, while the century-old fossil fuel incentives remain in place permanently,” he said.

Evergreen Action’s Ricketts called for specific consequences for Manchin, including removing him from the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Frankly, I don’t think he has much to do as Chairman of the Energy Committee if he is not willing to change energy policy, even if his colleagues comply with his demands. “, did he declare.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (DN.M.), a panel member, also questioned Manchin’s leadership on Friday, tweeting that his refusal to act is infuriating “makes me wonder why he is president of the ENR.”

Ricketts added that Democrats will have to “scratch and claw every inch” going forward, including pushing for the White House to use executive actions and pressing state governments to lead the charge.

But even the administration’s action faces its own daunting prospects after last month Supreme Court decision that restricted EPA’s authority to reduce emissions without “clear” direction from Congress. The implications of the decision have already begun to appear in other cases across the country where opponents are challenging the administration’s regulatory actions.

Still, climate hawks say that shouldn’t stop the administration from moving forward aggressively in the absence of congressional action.

“Each agency and department of the administration has different actions they can take. West Virginia vs. EPA didn’t change that,” Goldfuss added.

Zack Colman contributed to this report.


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