Energy & Environment

Advocates, Democrats seek climate plan B after Manchin bombshell

Greg Nash

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) dealt Democratic plans on climate change a potential death blow on Sunday, leaving climate hawks scrambling for alternate routes to meaningful action as the 2022 midterms loom.

The Build Back Better agenda represented the best hope for legislation action on climate change, and without Manchin’s support it is unclear how any major legislative progress can be made next year.

It could also set efforts back for years going forward, too, given the odds of a GOP takeover of the House and possibly the Senate after the midterms. A GOP Congress would not be expected to tackle the issue of climate change aggressively if at all.

Advocates for the Build Back Better bill urged the administration to restart talks with Manchin despite his position.

“I do think that the negotiations can continue. And I also think that we have to get to ‘yes’ ” said Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club.

She said the only pathway to a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 was through a Build Back Better-like bill.

“So it has to be done,” she said.

Ben Pendergrass, senior director of government affairs for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, said he was similarly hopeful at least some form of the bill’s climate ambitions could survive.

“We can’t let this moment pass and be beholden to a certain deadline,” he said. “So even if it takes a little bit longer, and we need to have some hearings, and do some tweaks or changes or additions to the policy, we should do those things,” he said.

The White House hasn’t given up on reviving the bill, but doing so may be a long-shot and some lawmakers are talking about different efforts. 

In an interview with The Hill, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) did not rule out passing parts of the reconciliation bill piecemeal. He said if he had to identify the most important climate provision, it would be the bill’s tax credits.

“That’s where the biggest part of the emission reduction is concentrated,” he said, before adding: “I would love to be able to do the other pieces as well.”

The bill’s climate provisions, including a tax credit for union-built electric vehicles, had drawn objections from Manchin, whose opposition had also killed other climate change provisions once in the package.

The bill passed by the House also included tax credits for renewable energies such as wind and solar and others meant to bolster storage and transmission technologies. A November projection by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress estimated the bill’s tax credits for renewable-powered vehicles could reduce transportation-sector emissions up to 28 percent.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) on Monday called for President Biden to take executive action to secure parts of the package.

“No one should think that we are going to be satisfied with an even smaller package that leaves people behind or refuses to tackle critical issues like climate change,” Jayapal said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “At this point, we should not wait for that legislative path for the president to take action. I just think if there are too many Americans hurting, there’s too much at stake.”

Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president for government affairs, told The Hill that there were provisions in the bill the Department of Agriculture could take without action by Congress.

He gave as an example a provision that would have paid farmers to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions from agriculture.

“[Agriculture] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack, with the stroke of a pen, could redirect the conservation fund to make reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions the primary focus of USDA conservation,” he said.

He also said lawmakers could address some of these same issues in the next farm bill by incorporating greenhouse gas reductions into eligibility for farming subsidies.

“Congress can also provide more funding to farmers when they take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or when they take steps to permanently restore marginal lands to grasslands,” he said.

The problem with using executive action on climate change is that a step taken by one president can be rolled back by another, something green groups saw firsthand when former President Trump was elected to succeed former President Obama. President Biden has also been working to roll back steps taken by the former GOP president.

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) said that when he attended the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, he was repeatedly asked about that possibility, citing Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and former President George W. Bush’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

“[They asked] ‘Why should we trust the United States of America to do what matters if we do not believe that one of your major parties gives a damn about climate change?’ ” Casten said, “and we did not have a good answer to that question.”

Alex Gangitano contributed.

Tags Barack Obama Build Back Better Climate change Donald Trump Jared Huffman Joe Biden Joe Manchin Pramila Jayapal Sean Casten

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