Bipartisan climate talks pick up steam
A group of about a dozen lawmakers is pushing for a bipartisan deal on climate change, meeting three times in two weeks to try to work out a deal that could get 60 votes in an evenly divided Senate.
The talks, led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), appear to have gained momentum as work on a separate reconciliation package that would have included climate provisions sits on ice.
However, lawmakers are describing discussions on the bipartisan maneuver as still being relatively early, and it’s not clear whether they will be able to reach a deal that satisfies enough senators on both sides.
The latest talks, which took place Wednesday evening, focused on tax credits, which were also a major component of Democrats’ failed Build Back Better bill.
Specifically, Build Back Better had incorporated tax credits expected to benefit energy sources including solar, wind and nuclear and things like batteries and carbon capture.
Carbon capture technology attempts to catch emissions from the burning of fossil fuels at power plants to prevent emissions from going into the air and worsening climate change.
Some Democrats had expressed hope that the bipartisan route may be a way to get some of these credits across the finish line and to President Biden’s desk.
“There’s a way to get real climate action. In other words, a lot of what was in the reconciliation bill could be in this bipartisan bill,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) told The Hill on Tuesday.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) has expressed skepticism about whether a bipartisan package could be used to advance Build Back Better tax credits. On Tuesday, he said: “If it becomes a vehicle for them, then it becomes less attractive to us.”
Cramer has said that there are certain tax credits he’d like to see, including those that promote nuclear energy and carbon capture.
Many Republicans support carbon capture because it could help to extend the life of fossil fuel plants while also making them cleaner, though skeptics point to high costs and past mechanical issues.
Republicans have also been pushing for changes to a law called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that mandates environmental reviews of construction projects.
They have argued that some of the reviews necessary to get a permit are too onerous and can also hamper the buildout of clean energy. NEPA’s supporters, including many Democrats, argue that robust reviews are necessary to protect people and the environment from potentially harmful projects.
Meanwhile, some Republicans are also pitching a carbon border adjustment, which could slap a tariff on imports whose production did not use best climate practices.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) framed his support for the policy as a “national security” issue.
Such a program could also give an edge to U.S. manufacturing that won’t be subject to import tariffs.
Some of the tax credits under consideration, like those for solar, wind and electric vehicles, however, may be less attractive to the GOP.
Asked whether he could support electric vehicle tax credits if he got more of his priorities like incentives for oil and gas, Cramer said “it’s a high, high price if we did everything that’s on the list. It seems impossible.”
He also said that going forward, lawmakers will have to hear from experts who can tell them which policies could produce the greatest climate benefits.
“The next step is to look at all of these technologies, have somebody explain to us what are the incremental emissions reductions, because clearly we just can’t fund all of these,” he said.
And while there is a push to get some tax credits into the bipartisan deal, others still see budget reconciliation as a potential pathway for climate action, despite the failure of Build Back Better.
Budget reconciliation is a process that only requires 50 votes to pass instead of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, meaning that Democrats alone could pass legislation using reconciliation if they all stick together.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) described a “two-track process” that would include a bipartisan climate change bill that “builds on” the bipartisan infrastructure law and another that may “go beyond that.”
“We can do both at the same time,” he said.
Some haven’t given up all hope that Manchin, who derailed Build Back Better by announcing his opposition in December, won’t back a smaller package.
A source familiar with the talks told The Hill after the first meeting that the fact that Manchin is leading bipartisan negotiations doesn’t mean he won’t also support a reconciliation measure.
Still, some Democrats are expressing doubt about whether they’ll be able to get their policies done through reconciliation.
Asked why Democrats were pursuing a bipartisan strategy rather than trying to negotiate amongst themselves, Hickenlooper was blunt: “We don’t have 50 votes,” he said. “We’ve tried that.”