Energy & Environment

Democrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) questions Office of Management and Budget acting director Shalanda Young during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to discuss President Biden's budget request for FY 2022 on Tuesday, June 8, 2020.
Greg Nash

Democrats are clamoring to keep their climate priorities in the spending bill passed by the House as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) pushes for adjustments.

Democratic senators on Wednesday said a fee on methane emissions and a tax credit for union-built electric vehicles are among the provisions that are still being negotiated. Both are in the House-passed bill. 

“I feel like we’re in a good spot. There are two or three policies we’re having to work out, so we’ll see,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told reporters when asked about the chances that the legislation would be significantly changed.

Manchin and centrists in the House already used their clout to cut back at some of the climate provisions prized by progressives. While additional changes are likely, their size and scope are not entirely clear.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he has been in “very constructive” discussions with Manchin about the methane program.

“He shared with us the concerns that they have with the original methane fee, and we have taken their very constructive comments,” Carper said. Carper said Manchin and House moderates from Texas have raised concerns about the provision, but he said they were not as concerned after the program was adjusted to also include financing to help companies stop emitting methane before they are hit with a fine.

Democrats have modified their proposal charging drillers for excess emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas that’s a major contributor to climate change — to also include incentives to help companies cut down on releases of the gas. 

Carper told reporters that he thinks ultimately the policy will make it into the bill, saying, “I’m encouraged that, at the end of the day, we’ll put the ball in the end zone.”

Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), a red-state Democrat who has expressed some hesitation about the methane policy, expressed an openness when asked about it.

“I’ve got some concerns about approaching this from the tax angle, but the bottom line is climate change is real. We need to act like it’s real. We need to focus on things that actually get the job done to change the CO2 output in this country,” he said. 

Stabenow is also advocating for another provision that Manchin opposes — a $4,500 extra consumer tax credit for electric vehicles built by union workforces. 

This credit would come in addition to tax credits worth up to $8,000 for consumers who purchase electric vehicles. 

On Wednesday, Stabenow said Senate Democrats are “still negotiating” on the provision, saying, “At this point, I’m not sure where this is going to land.”

Asked if they’re likely to reach a compromise, she said, “We’ll see.”

The senators’ comments come one day after Manchin said that he was working with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on “adjustments” to the package’s energy and climate provisions. 

“The different energy stuff is what we mostly talked about. Just basically looking at different things that we agree [on] and adjustments that need to be made,” Manchin told reporters. 

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon declined to comment Wednesday on what specific adjustments Manchin wants to see. Asked about the policies, Runyon referred The Hill to the senator’s previous comments expressing concern about the union-built electric vehicles credit. 

“When I heard about this, what they were putting in the bill, I went right to [Stabenow] and said this is wrong. This can’t happen. It’s not who we are as a country. It’s not how we built this country. And the product should speak for itself. We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” Manchin said last month

One of the bill’s primary climate components, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, has already been removed. The provision, which would have provided financial incentives for electric utilities to transition to clean energy, was stripped shortly after Manchin indicated it was a non-starter for him. 

Democrats are also pushing to add policies that were not in the House version, such as a carbon border fee and a domestic carbon price. 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told reporters Wednesday that the caucus was “going to keep working on” including a potential carbon fee in the final measure. Coons said he believed that both a broader carbon fee and another policy, a border adjustment fee for carbon-intensive imports, “will be most effective if adopted together.”

“It is possible” to impose a border fee without specifically imposing an additional price on carbon, Coons added. “But it’s frankly much more effective in terms of implementation.”

Carper floated the idea of including a price on carbon but acknowledged, “I don’t know that we have all the votes in order to do that.”

Like Manchin, Tester has expressed skepticism about the idea of a carbon tax, telling reporters on Wednesday, “I haven’t seen one that works. I’m not going to say no, but show me one that works.”

Tags Chris Coons Chuck Schumer Debbie Stabenow Joe Manchin Jon Tester Tom Carper

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