WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Manchin III’s statement that he cannot support his party’s $ 2.2 trillion Build Back Better bill has dramatically clouded the outlook for climate action that scientists say U.S. United must take to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming.
Mr Manchin, who first voiced his opposition in an interview with Fox News on Sunday, issued a follow-up statement that targeted the provisions of the climate and clean energy bill, saying they “risked the reliability of our electricity grid and increased our dependence on foreign supply chains.
As the Democratic swing votes in an equally divided Senate where all Republicans oppose the legislation, Mr Manchin is in the unique position of deciding whether the bill can pass.
The news of his opposition alarmed environmentalists. “I don’t think we can tackle the climate crisis on the scale we need without passing this law,” said Leah Stokes, professor of environmental policy at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who advised Senate Democrats .
While the administration can use executive measures and regulations, without legislation, experts say it will be next to impossible to meet President Biden’s goal of aggressively reducing pollution generated by the United States, the country that has historically pumped the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This would have dire stakes for the planet, environmentalists said.
Oregon Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley said on Twitter that failure to pass the legislation “would be a climate catastrophe.”
Mr. Biden and other world leaders have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above the temperatures of before the industrial revolution. This is the threshold beyond which scientists have warned that the planet will in the irreversible future fall from frequent deadly heat waves, droughts, forest fires and storms, rising sea levels, food shortages and massive migration. The planet has already warmed by around 1.1 degrees Celsius.
No matter how large the social agendas of the Build Back Better Bill, the climate crisis is an existential threat that demands immediate action, said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. “We cannot change the basic physics of the problem,” he said. “So there is a special urgency to this – we cannot miss it. “
The bill rejected by Mr. Manchin would have made the largest expenditure in the history of the country to fight against global warming. About $ 555 billion of the $ 2.2 trillion bill would be aimed at moving the US economy away from its 150-year-old dependence on fossil fuels and clean energy sources.
Instead of penalties to punish polluters, the bill relies heavily on incentives for industries, utilities and consumers to switch from burning oil, gas and coal for energy and transportation. harnessing wind, solar and other forms of energy that do not emit carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas that warms the world.
The Build Back Better bill would bring the United States halfway to Mr. Biden’s goal of cutting emissions to about half of 2005 levels by the end of this decade, according to Rhodium Group, a non-partisan analytics company.
It would provide approximately $ 320 billion in tax incentives to producers and buyers of wind, solar and nuclear energy. Buyers of electric vehicles would receive up to $ 12,500 in tax credits. It included $ 6 billion to make buildings more energy efficient and about $ 6 billion to replace furnaces and gas appliances with electric versions. And it has provided billions of dollars for research and development of new technologies to capture carbon dioxide from the air.
The version of the bill that was passed by the House would expand existing tax credits to reduce the costs of installing solar panels, ground source heat pumps and small wind turbines for homeowners, covering up to 30% of the costs. .
For months, Mr Manchin, who personally benefits from investments in a family-owned coal brokerage company he founded, opposed various provisions of the bill that his supporters say are vital to reducing the combustion of coal, oil and gas.
Mr Manchin rejected part of the bill that would have been the most effective tool to reduce greenhouse gases, a clean electricity program that would have rewarded power plants that have switched from burning fossil fuels to solar, wind and other clean sources and punished those who did not. He opposed a provision that would have imposed a levy on emissions of methane, a powerful pollutant that warms the planet and leaks from oil and gas wells. And he opposed the provision that would have granted tax credits to consumers who buy electric vehicles produced by unions.
He also rejected a provision that would have banned future oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico.
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Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, who heads the Senate Finance Committee and who drafted the bulk of the clean energy tax incentive package, noted he was backed by major utilities in ‘electricity. “This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, and failure is not an option,” Wyden said on Sunday.
Climate activists, especially youth-led groups who campaigned for Mr Biden during his presidential run, said on Sunday they were furious and blamed the president and Democratic leaders for everything as much as Mr. Manchin.
“Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer let us down,” said Paul Campion, 24, who joined a hunger strike outside the White House in November to push through the spending program.
“They allowed Senator Manchin to fix the terms of the bill and ultimately derail it,” Campion said. He added that not enacting climate legislation would “have huge consequences next year for Democrats when they have nothing to show for their trifecta government.”
Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a climate advocacy group, criticized Mr Biden for not fighting harder for the climate provisions he campaigned on. “It’s frustrating the ways he didn’t come out and defend and fight for his program the way he could have,” Ms. Prakash said.
With the possibility of Democrats losing control of the House in the midterm elections next year, the prospects for climate action are quickly fading, she said. “From now on, the political map just looks more competitive and less promising,” she said. “This is our moment and they are blowing it.”
Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said it might be possible to salvage key pieces of the climate package. While the $ 2.2 trillion version that was passed by the House is unlikely to move forward, she said aspects or another version of the bill could still be passed.
“Building back better is not dead. We’ve been on the Manchin roller coaster for a long time now, and we see him sharing his emotions in public, ”she said. “What’s incredibly important now is for Biden and Manchin to start discussing what is acceptable.”
Others were less sure that there was more room for compromise. “The climate provisions are both historic and urgent and necessary and already a compromise,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. “There really is nothing more to give out there.”