Energy & Environment

Key climate program stays in spending bill — for now

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is seen during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 21, 2021.
Greg Nash

Legislative text released by Senate Democrats proposes to retain a key climate program in their climate and social spending bill as they prepare to face the senate parliamentarian.

The text released by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee presents a program using both grants and fees to cut emissions of this powerful planet-warming gas that’s essentially identical to the House version.

The program, often referred to as a methane fee, would provide funding through grants and loans to help companies monitor and reduce their methane emissions. Starting in 2023, it would also charge them a fee for the methane they release above a certain threshold.

But the committee noted in a statement accompanying the text that it “may be revised” after conversations with both “interested Senators” and the parliamentarian — who acts as a referee of sorts to determine whether the legislation complies with Senate rules.

When it was originally pitched, the plan just included the fee with no grants and drew ire from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key swing vote.

Manchin has since stated that “good adjustments” have been made to the methane fee but indicated discussions are ongoing. The West Virginia Democrat suggested he would be opposed to taking an entirely penalty-based approach to methane emissions.

“You’ve got to do one of two things. Do you want basically different things through regulations as far as EPA, or do you want money? If they’re basically complying with the regulations, then you shouldn’t be subject to a fee, so we’re talking about different things like that,” Manchin told reporters last week.

A Senate Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations with Manchin told The Hill on Thursday that they continue to move in a “positive direction”

Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) made similar comments earlier this month, saying he had had “very constructive” discussions with Manchin and was confident that Congress would eventually “put the ball in the end zone.”

The text also increases funding for a program that would pay for increased infrastructure for zero-emissions vehicles. The program, part of the $27.5 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, would see a funding increase from $2 billion to $3 billion under the committee’s text, the aide told The Hill.

The committee text would also more than double available grants for low-carbon construction materials, from $900 million to $2 billion. 

It also retains other programs from the House-passed bill, including block grants for climate and environmental justice and supplemental funding to remove lead pipes from the country’s drinking water infrastructure

Overall, Carper touted the legislation as a win on climate change.

“Our bill will reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, drive down the cost of clean technologies, and ensure all Americans benefit from these robust investments,” he said in a statement. “While we continue to finalize the Build Back Better Act text, I’m confident we will soon send a truly historic package to President Biden’s desk.” 

Tags Build Back Better Climate change Democrats Joe Biden Joe Manchin methane fee parliamentarian spending bill Tom Carper

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