The White House is struggling to find a way to significantly address climate change after Democratic senator Joe Manchin reportedly signaled his opposition to President Biden’s clean-power plan, a critical element of his climate agenda.
The West Virginia Democrat reportedly said he’s unable to support the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program — a central plank of Biden’s Build Back Better plan — likely because of its adverse impact on the coal and natural-gas industries, two resources vital to West Virginia’s economy. (The state is the second-largest coal producer in the country and Manchin himself has personal financial ties to the coal industry.)
Manchin’s vote is essential to Democrats’ plan to pass the massive spending bill via the reconciliation process in the Senate. Manchin’s spokesperson, Sam Runyon, told the New York Times that the senator opposes “using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing.” The CEPP would have forced utility companies to make the switch from fossil fuels to sustainable power sources like solar, wind, and nuclear power, as well as penalizing those who did not.
Manchin’s refusal to support legislation including the CEPP prompted outrage and pushback from climate activists and multiple Democrats in Congress over the weekend, some of whom have themselves vowed not to support a reconciliation package that does not include significant measures to combat climate change.
“This is absolutely the most important climate policy in the package,” Leah Stokes, an expert on climate policy who has been advising Senate Democrats on how to craft the program, told the Times. “We fundamentally need it to meet our climate goals. That’s just the reality. And now we can’t. So this is pretty sad.”
On Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed his disappointment with Manchin’s stance, telling CNN that “the longer you take to do something about it, the more it’s going to cost in livelihoods as well as lives,” and that though “the administration and the president are committed to bold climate action, exactly what legislative form that takes is what’s being negotiated right now.”
The seemingly imminent demise of the clean-power plan has prompted the White House and lawmakers to rewrite the legislation and look at alternatives to tackle greenhouse-gas emissions, the Times reports. One such provision may be a carbon tax, in which polluting industries would pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. The Washington Post reports that a voluntary, scaled-back, cap-and-trade emissions policy is being considered, too. The revised bill might also include additional clean-energy tax incentives and credits, as well as investments in public transit and electric vehicles. It’s not clear, however, whether or not Manchin would support any of these or other potential changes.