Sen. Manchin Dashes Administration’s Hope of Addressing Climate Change
WASHINGTON — In something of a stunner, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told Democratic party leaders on Thursday that he could not support funding for climate or energy programs in a proposed “slimmed down” reconciliation bill that had been the subject of months of negotiation.
Manchin said he could agree to some of the proposed package’s provisions, namely those related to allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug costs and extend subsidies under the Affordable Care Act that are set to expire at the end of the year.
But when it came to climate, energy and a plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations, he said the party wouldn’t have his vote. In an evenly divided Senate where the Democrats hold a majority only with the additional vote of the vice president, Manchin’s position effectively kills the bill.
Manchin’s decision, revealed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., during a telephone call on Thursday, comes roughly seven months after the West Virginia senator walked away from negotiations over a larger reconciliation bill.
Democrats had hoped to advance the domestic policy package through reconciliation, which is essentially a fast-track process that would enable them to sidestep a filibuster by Senate Republicans, who oppose it and pass it with a simple majority.
Not surprisingly, Manchin’s decision sent shock waves through the environmentalist community.
“My reaction is, as Benedict Arnold was to the country of his birth, Joe Manchin is to the planet of his origin,” said Bill McKibben, the noted environmentalist, author and journalist, in an email to The Well News on Friday morning.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called it “outrageous” that “Manchin and the Republican Party have killed climate legislation this Congress.”
Meanwhile, former California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, took to Twitter to describe Thursday as a “Tragic day for Americans — and the world.”
“Oblivious to science and our common future, the dinosaurs of coal and their compliant stooge, Sen. Manchin, have now torpedoed an absolutely vital climate initiative. Insane and criminal.”
Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit group, said in a statement that “there truly aren’t words for how appalled, outraged, and disappointed we are.”
“Sen. Manchin had every opportunity to stand up for climate, jobs and justice, and save families money when they need it most, but instead he is choosing to stand with polluters.”
Manchin’s decision also shocked a number of his fellow Democrats on the Hill who had seemed to believe the West Virginia senator and Schumer were close to a deal on the climate and energy provisions after weeks of negotiations.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat my disappointment here, especially since nearly all issues in the climate and energy space had been resolved,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a statement provided to The Well News.
“This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic — and costly — effects of climate change. We can’t come back in another decade and forestall hundreds of billions — if not trillions — in economic damage and undo the inevitable human toll,” he continued.
“Our clean energy tax package is the best way to lower costs for American consumers and guard against the whims of foreign oil producers over the long-term. If we can’t move forward as we had hoped, we need to salvage as much of this package as possible. The expression that failure is not an option is overused, but failure really is not an option here,” Wyden said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., also saw Manchin’s apparent abrupt shift of position as a call to action, taking to Twitter to say, “With legislative climate options now closed, it’s now time for executive Beast Mode.”
Later, Whitehouse posted an extensive list of actions he believes the Biden administration could still take to address climate change. These include:
- A robust social cost of carbon rule with broad reach.
- Require carbon capture from all major emitters.
- Stricter limits on co-pollutants from coal- and gas-fired power plants.
- Stronger emissions controls on cars/light trucks and heavy-duty vehicles.
- Put lower emissions front and center in procurement (e.g., electrify USPS).
- Hunt methane leaks with new satellite technology and enforce.
- Tell the DOJ to evaluate tobacco-style climate litigation (DOJ won big!).
- Dozens of smaller regs across DOE, DOI, EPA, DOD, OMB (“thousand cuts”).
- Call out corporations who block climate action in Congress (“good guys” too).
- Use existing executive branch trade and tariff authority to establish a carbon border tariff for imports from countries with worst relative carbon emissions, based on industry carbon density.
On Friday morning, Manchin spoke with West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval to address the flak he’s been receiving since Thursday night and explain his position.
During his appearance on the “MetroNews Talkline” program, Manchin said talks on the climate provisions had been “very, very productive.”
The problem, he said, is that the Biden administration, “and a lot of my colleagues on the left side of the Democratic Party, have been very clear — what they want is to eliminate, eliminate, eliminate, and quit using any fossil fuel.”
“Their position is, don’t make one more investment, don’t put another inch of pipe in the ground … just starve it and kill it with 1,000 cuts. And I just said, ‘I’m sorry. If that’s where you are and if you’re not willing to move from that, there’s no further discussion needed,’” Manchin said.
“This was two or three months ago, and to their credit, they said, ‘No, we want to talk,’” the senator said.
Manchin said as talks continued, his position was that it is unrealistic to expect to replace “the horsepower of fossil fuels in 10 years’ time.”
“You might in 20 years or so. … But I’m not going to be part of eliminating what this country needs to run its economic engine and the lives of human beings throughout America … or the support we have to provide our allies around the world. I’m not going to do that.”
Manchin said what he was calling for during the negotiation was a “robust, aggressive investment” in the fossil fuel sector for the next decade, and that he wanted “the cleanest” carbon capture included in the plan.
“And I thought we were truly moving in the right direction,” he said. “But then I said, we have to pay for it, because I knew no Republican would go for anything that didn’t keep the tax code the way that is.”
Manchin said a proposal to tax corporations on their overseas earnings was taken off the table, but that the two sides couldn’t agree on how to both raise the tax on domestic earnings by corporations and not disrupt future business investment and hiring.
“Look, I’m willing to look at everything, but I’m not throwing caution to the wind,” he said.
In addition to philosophical differences on energy, Manchin said he also thought in the end that negotiations were being rushed for the sake of the political calendar.
“We need an energy policy that works for our country,” he said. “At the same time, we need to be cognizant of our current economic realities: Inflation is absolutely killing people. They can’t buy gasoline. They’re having a hard time buying groceries. … So what I’ve been saying is, the Federal Reserve just raised interest rates … let’s wait until the July inflation figures come out and see how that policy is working … so that we know we’re going down the right path.
“I think we do need to invest in new technologies that will be totally carbon free. And we can do those investments. But we cannot expect those investments to produce the energy that we need in a 10-year cycle. … Some people believe the only way you can address climate change is by stopping the production of fossil fuel. They say ‘no more oil, no more coal, no more gas.’
“That’s crazy. The whole world is in flux right now. So the only thing the United States can do, if we truly want to decarbonize, is to produce more fossil fuel that’s cleaner than that produced anywhere else in the world, and replace the dirty fossil fuel that’s going into the atmosphere,” Manchin said.
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