Energy & Environment

Democrats say they’re committed to reducing emissions in Biden plan

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) speaks to reporters after a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.
Greg Nash

Democrats say they are determined to deliver bold climate action in the social spending bill being crafted in the House and Senate even without a key program that drew opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The loss of the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which was expected to bring deep emissions cuts from the power sector by reducing emissions from electricity generation, represented a big blow to the legislation’s climate provisions.  

But Democrats are weighing “alternatives” to the CEPP, which sought to reduce emissions from electricity generation. 

Advocates said Democrats can’t afford to let the opportunity of taking meaningful action on climate slip away in a rare moment when the party holds the White House and majorities in the House and Senate.

If the chance of enacting meaningful measures is missed this time, the party might not get another good chance for years given fears in the party that Republicans could retake the House majority next year.

“It’s not hyperbole to say this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver bold climate jobs and justice investments,” said Ben Beachy, the director of the Sierra Club’s living economy program. 

The CEPP had been seen as the cornerstone of the Biden administration’s climate agenda. It sought to get 80 percent of the country’s electricity coming from clean sources by 2030 through a mix of grants and fines on power providers.

A recent analysis from the think tank Energy Innovation said the program could be responsible for one-third of the total emissions reductions created by the two-part Biden economic agenda, which includes the social spending measure and an infrastructure package already approved by the Senate.

The program’s inclusion in the spending bill is doomed without Manchin’s support, as Senate Democrats need all 50 members of their caucus on board. But lawmakers are now looking for ways to make up the gap. 

“We’re working right now, as we speak, on the call I’m about to join, on what the alternatives are going to be,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told reporters at around midday on Wednesday. 

“We’re talking to … the policy experts and we’re going to see what other alternatives they’re recommending. This is very much an ongoing negotiation. It’s not sufficient just to have the tax credits from solar and wind,” he added, referencing provisions outside the electricity program that are still in the bill. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said there could be an expansion of a bill that would provide tax incentives for clean electricity, clean transportation and energy conservation in buildings. 

“We’re looking at a variety of issues. Some of my colleagues want to expand Clean Energy for America” Act, he told reporters. 

Others said there were multiple ways to go about filling the gap. 

“It has to be something targeted at reducing emissions,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said Wednesday. “It only matters how much, it doesn’t matter whether you get those emissions from the industrial sector, from transportation, from power generation.”

Advocates outside Congress stinging over the loss of the program say lawmakers must take action to meet the scale of the climate crisis. 

“This is a really important investment, and if it’s not on the table, we need to be repurposing that quarter of the climate spending towards other ideas, other investments that can deliver pollution cuts,” said Leah Stokes, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Some note an analysis from the Rhodium Group found that President Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. emissions at least in half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels is plausible without the CEPP. 

“We are confident that we can still meet the goals that science demands and justice demands and that the Biden-Harris administration has set,” Matthew Davis, the senior director of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, told The Hill. “We still think that the Build Back Better Act, even without the CEPP, can get us within striking distance.”

And a few lawmakers remain hopeful that the CEPP might remain in a final bill in some form. 

“I talked to my staff about it as recently as this morning to say let’s provide technical assistance to see how we can work with those who think that this program is … the best thing since sliced bread and those who don’t,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters. 

Asked what changes, if any, could be made to it, he said “stay tuned.”

Lawmakers are saying that a deal on the overall bill could be on the horizon, with Manchin saying he’ll try to come to an agreement with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by the end of the week. 

Biden is also facing pressure to have something to show at a global climate conference that starts at the end of the month so that he can attend with evidence to the world that the U.S. is taking its commitments to reduce emissions seriously. 

“He will go there with great pride because we will pass legislation that enables him to not only meet but beat our goals and to do so in a way that helps other developing countries, poorer countries, meet their goals as well,” House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a press conference. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Climate change Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Martin Heinrich Ro Khanna Ron Wyden Tom Carper
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