Energy & Environment

Democrats push for climate deal as time runs short

Democrats are scrambling to secure a deal to mitigate climate change as their window for an agreement is rapidly closing. 

Key lawmakers say they’re still working to sell Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on a slate of clean energy tax credits and a fee on methane emissions.

And the stakes are particularly high amid high fuel prices, a Supreme Court ruling that curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate powers and the growing threat of climate change itself.

For months, lawmakers have been negotiating a package that would seek to limit climate-warming emissions, lower prescription drug costs and raise taxes on high-income individuals. 

But with the August recess looming, lawmakers are seeing their time run short.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters on Tuesday that he is still working with Manchin on a program aimed at cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. 

He said that the two sides had reached a “pretty good agreement” a few months ago, and added, “We’re looking at it now, tweaking it a little bit.”

Methane is a potent source of planet-warming emissions, with 25 times the impacts of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. It’s also the main component of natural gas, which is used in electricity generation and home heating.

The version of the methane “fee” that passed the House last year as part of a large budget reconciliation package known as Build Back Better contained both penalties and incentives for oil and gas companies to cut their emissions of the gas. 

Despite the obstacles, Carper said he’s feeling “encouraged.”

“It’s important that we get to yes,” he said. “I think we will.”

Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he believes the essence of his panel’s clean energy tax credits are still “intact.” In particular, he said a “neutral” approach that would give credits to various kinds of emissions-reducing technologies is still in play. 

“A new system based on technological neutrality — not picking winners and losers — and making sure that in the future, the bigger your emissions reductions the bigger your tax savings — I believe are still in good shape.”

If something passes the Senate, it will be a much smaller package that the Build Back Better agenda once dreamed of by Democrats.

It’s likely to have a ceiling of $300 billion in spending on clean energy, a little more than half of the $555 billion that was included in the House bill. 

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the White House is considering another approach to secure Manchin’s support: approving fossil fuel projects.

The Post reported that the Biden administration is considering approving more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and a massive project in Alaska — as well as a pipeline that runs through West Virginia.

Democrats could pass the budget reconciliation measure through the Senate if all 50 of their members stand together. The rules for the budget bill prevent a GOP filibuster.

But the negotiations also give a lot of power to Manchin, who torpedoed plans for the much larger package in December. Manchin has also repeatedly expressed concerns about inflation, doing so again after a new report on Wednesday found consumer prices rose 1.3 percent in June and 9.1 percent over the last 12 months.

“No matter what spending aspirations some in Congress may have, it is clear to anyone who visits a grocery store or a gas station that we cannot add any more fuel to this inflation fire,” Manchin said in a statement.

The White House declined to comment to the Post about the possibility of new drilling offers, and a spokesperson did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

There have been other reports that Democrats were considering changes to win over Manchin.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Democratic-proposed electric vehicle tax credits are on the chopping block. 

A proposal for credits for union-made electric vehicles is already out, and Democrats are weighing limiting tax credits to low-income consumers to get Manchin on board, people familiar with the talks told the Times.

Asked about the status of negotiations, Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon declined to provide policy specifics. She said that the senator was working “in good faith” on issues including energy and climate.  

“He continues to work in good faith to see if there is a pathway forward to shore up domestic energy production and reduce emissions, lower healthcare costs for seniors and working families, and ensure everyone is paying their fair share of taxes,” Runyon said in a statement. 

And Manchin himself on Tuesday emphasized the need for more energy production, telling reporters, “if you’re going to have gas prices lower, produce energy, period.” He also stressed concerns over food prices and inflation more broadly.

In terms of a timeline, Manchin told reporters this week that Democrats have until Sept. 30 to hold a vote. That’s the day that a budget resolution allowing them to pass legislation with just 50 votes expires. 

That would appear to put the pressure on to get something done before the August recess, when lawmakers will head back to their districts to campaign.

Democrats are facing massive headwinds in their bid to hold the House majority. If they lose it, they’d also lose the chance to move the climate measure.

Green groups and advocates see the window closing for action. Not getting anything done while Democrats hold the White House and majorities in the House and Senate would deal a crushing blow to efforts to tackle climate change in the U.S.

Advocates also took a hit last month from the conservative majority Supreme Court, which took away a regulatory tool for the Biden administration to combat climate change from power plants.

Scientists have warned that the world’s window to avert a major climate change threshold is narrowing and say that rapid action is necessary to mitigate its impacts. Extreme temperatures in states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado underscored the need for action while giving a preview of the kind of changes the world is seeing with climate change. 

Tags Build Back Better Climate change Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Ron Wyden Tom Carper Tom Carper
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