Energy & Environment

Climate advocates hopeful after Manchin spending comments

Climate advocates are feeling optimistic after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) expressed openness to climate provisions in the Democrats’ proposed social and climate spending bill amid his disagreement with other pieces of the legislation. 

They say that they anticipate many climate measures getting across the finish line — even if Manchin didn’t specify a vehicle to get them here. 

On Tuesday, Manchin held firm on prior skepticism of the Build Back Better Act, a centerpiece of President Biden’s legislative agenda, but said that climate is an area “that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else.”

He touted “a lot of good things in there,” specifically mentioning clean energy tax credits, but also cautioned that Democrats should be “realistic.”

“The takeaway is — I definitely think there’s a path forward, not just on climate but broadly on” Build Back Better, said Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director.

Jamal Raad, executive director of climate group Evergreen Action, said he believes Manchin’s comment indicates that there is “widespread support among the caucus for the climate investment.”

Raad particularly pointed to the fact that Manchin “name-checks certain provisions like the clean energy tax credits, which are the linchpin of the proposal.”

What’s unclear is how those provisions will become law given the divide over the larger measure.

A Senate source told The Hill that the climate provisions of the legislation are largely settled and agreed upon. The source expects them to make it across the finish line, but also said they won’t be alone in a climate-only bill. 

Pierce also said the most likely path forward for the climate provisions is if the larger measure becomes unstuck. Manchin has said he is a “no” on that larger bill and has objected to its costs at a time of inflation.

Frank Maisano, who represents both fossil and renewable energy clients at Bracewell LLP, said that if talks fail to revive the larger Build Back Better measure, provisions like the tax credits could be tackled when lawmakers take up their annual government appropriations bills.

“Putting it in the budget in must-pass legislation … that’s the kind of way I think you can get it resolved,” Maisano said. 

If they become law, the climate provisions would be expected to cut large amounts of planet-warming emissions over the next decade and help President Biden achieve his climate goals.

Key programs toward getting there include the clean energy tax credits, in addition to incentives for clean vehicles and a program that aims to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas industry. 

The package also includes provisions that benefit the energy industry and are important to Manchin, who has sought to protect the coal industry.

Among them are tax credits for the use of carbon capture technology — through which coal and gas plants are incentivized to implement technology that prevents them from spewing climate-warming pollutants into the atmosphere. 

The technology has been met with skepticism from advocates, who call it unproven and expensive — and warn that it could be used to extend the life of polluting power plants as they weigh whether to pursue the credits or shut down. 

Manchin also supports tax credits for additional energy sources like nuclear that the bill promotes. 

While the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — which Manchin leads — did not put forward its own proposed text for the Build Back Better Act, a reported draft obtained by outlets including The Hill contained many similar provisions to the House version — indicating additional policies that may have the senator’s support. 

This document pitched raising fees that companies pay to drill on federally owned lands and waters and repealing a provision passed in 2017 that required drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Manchin has objected to some programs that liberals wanted included in the Build Back Better bill to tackle climate change, nixing a proposed program that would have incentivized power providers to shift toward clean energy sources. 

The methane program was also modified to include funding for companies. It originally only contained a fee for excess release of the gas. 

Other disagreements must still be sorted out, including a tax credit for union-built electric vehicles opposed by Manchin. Manchin also indicated last month that some aspects of the methane fee were still being worked out. 

Progressive Policy Institute strategic adviser Paul Bledsoe called divisions on those issues “smaller,” however.

Bledsoe, who served as the director of communications for the White House climate change task force during the Clinton administration, also said the provisions in the bill have remained “incredibly robust.”

The current language “would be, by far, the largest jump-start to the U.S. clean energy and global clean energy economy ever conducted,” he said.

It comes as Manchin continues to take issue with key social spending priorities like the proposed extension to the expanded child tax credit, which is included in the House-passed version of the spending package and lapsed just before the end of December.

Matthew Davis, senior director of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, cautioned against ceding this issue — citing the interconnectivity between climate and economic justice. 

“We certainly have seen what both the pandemic and climate change are doing to our communities, and families around the country are really going to miss that child tax credit on Jan. 15,” Davis said, while also noting that many of those hit hardest by climate disasters are those in poor communities and communities of color.

“The communities that get hit worst and first by climate disasters are poor communities, communities of color, people who are losing their jobs because of climate change or because of shifts in technology,” Davis said. “They are the folks who need the help the most to stabilize their economic situation for their family and help get the retraining they need to enter the clean energy economy.”

Prior to Manchin’s latest comments, some Democrats indicated they may be willing to cede the issue in order to advance the legislation at large. 

“We have to find a package that’s got votes from 50 senators,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) told reporters Tuesday prior to Machin’s latest comments. “I’m sure everyone on this call strongly supports the child tax credit, but we’ve got to figure out what you’ve got support [for] amongst 50 people.”

Tags Build Back Better Climate change Filibuster Joe Biden Joe Manchin Tina Smith

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