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Democrats’ Methane Fee Proposal Faces Uncertainty in Senate

November 23, 2021 by Reece Nations
Unused methane gas, flames off a giant stack outside a facility near Monroe, Wash., in 2012. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Democrats succeeded in including a proposed fee on methane emissions in the Build Back Better Act, but the measure will have to endure scrutiny from centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., before it becomes law.

The Democrats’ framework for the Build Back Better Act included many measures aimed at reducing the energy industry’s impact on climate change to meet President Joe Biden’s policy agenda goal of reducing domestic carbon emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. In addition to the fee for methane emissions, the Build Back Better Act includes a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund supporting low- and zero-emission technologies.

Manchin, who hails from coal and natural gas-rich West Virginia and chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has previously indicated he would not support the methane fee’s inclusion in the bill unless it incentivizes innovation in the energy sector and doesn’t needlessly punish companies. Given the razor-thin margins in the Senate needed to pass the bill to Biden for signing, Machin’s support could make or break the deal for Democrats relying on big legislative victories ahead of the 2022 midterms.

The bill in its current form also seeks to permanently ban new offshore oil and gas leasing along the Atlantic Coast, Pacific Coast and Eastern Gulf of Mexico while also instituting home energy efficiency and appliance electrification rebates. 

Further, the bill would invest over $320 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency tax incentives along with $6 billion for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects to increase the climate resilience of coastal communities and issues $5 billion to replace heavy-duty vehicles like trash trucks and school buses that are known to contribute to domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

“The bill also holds corporate polluters accountable by forcing them to pay for the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites, not taxpayers,” Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a written statement following the bill’s passage. 

“The Build Back Better Act also aggressively tackles the worsening crisis by making historic investments to move us toward a clean energy economy while also producing millions of good paying American jobs. We simply cannot wait any longer to combat the climate crisis.”

Currently, the Build Back Better Act would impose a rising fee on excess emissions at oil and gas facilities that would reach $1,500 per ton by 2025, according to the bill’s text. The legislation also tacks on $775 million in subsidies to help energy companies that commit to reducing their emissions in accordance with the Biden administration’s wishes.

The Build Back Better framework tracks closely with the global pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030 introduced by Biden and other world leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference this month. As previously reported by The Well News, international scientists monitoring data from satellites have discovered significant amounts of methane emissions from energy facilities in countries around the world, further complicating global climate change mitigation efforts.

“The threats from climate change have never been more real and this package includes climate and clean energy investments that are six times the level of the Obama clean energy stimulus,” Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said in a written statement. “This will provide a massive shot in the arm for a clean, renewable future that is not dependent on fossil fuels, a future where our electric grid is modernized, our school buses are electrified, our electric vehicles have an accessible charging network across the country and we are not expanding offshore oil drilling.”

O’Malley continued, “The Build Back Better Act also reverses some of the environmental sins of the past from finally reinstating the Superfund Tax to make sure polluters pay for toxic clean-ups to providing more funding to replace lead service lines across the nation.” 

Reece can be reached at [email protected].

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