Dems' Climate Package on Ice After Manchin's 'No'

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Joe Manchin
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Democrats are pledging to advance elements of an economy-wide spending package after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) dealt a blow to the effort Sunday.

“We are going to continue to take steps, work like hell, to get it done,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Monday of the so-called "Build Back Better" legislation, a key piece of President Joe Biden's domestic agenda that needs the support of all 50 Democratic senators in order to pass.

“We have every intention of passing Build Back Better,” she said.

Manchin, one of the Senate's most conservative Democrats, again finds himself as the pivotal vote to pass sweeping legislation that could have significant implications on energy efficiency and emissions control in the US. On Sunday, Manchin told Fox News that he was a “no” on the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday told colleagues he still intends to put a version of the bill to a vote — “and we will keep voting on it until we get something done,” he said in a letter reported by Axios.

But it’s not clear at this point what could garner the support needed from 50 senators to pass the bill.

What’s Stalled?

The Build Back Better bill contained key provisions aimed at accelerating electrification, reining in methane emissions and incentivizing more zero-carbon electricity.

Manchin was ready to sign on to hundreds of millions of dollars in climate-related spending, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Still, the West Virginia Democrat hasn’t fully embraced the climate-related aspects of the bill, saying in a statement Sunday that provisions would “risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependency on foreign supply chains" — a claim often repeated by fossil fuel proponents, who say a lack of investment in upstream production will mean more imports for the US in the near term.

Democrats had also been pushing for a fee on methane releases from oil and gas infrastructure, something Manchin has voiced concerns about.

A package of roughly $300 million in clean-energy tax credits was less controversial, although Manchin has also opposed credits for electric vehicles that are higher for US- and union-made vehicles.

Manchin also seemed to imply in his Sunday statement that the climate-related spending isn't necessary, claiming that the energy transition "is already well under way" in the US.

'Yawning Gap'

Progressive groups and lawmakers alike reacted to Manchin’s announcement with calls on US President Joe Biden to step up executive action. The White House indeed took one step Monday, finalizing a more aggressive fuel economy rule for vehicles.

But environmental advocates are largely skeptical that executive decrees can effect the same changes as legislative action.

Former US President Barack Obama was forced to turn to executive action after the failure of cap-and-trade legislation early in his presidency. Many of those moves were reversed or remain stalled in the courts.

The US would fall short of its 2030 emissions goal by 1.2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent without the policies outlined in the Build Back Better Act, according to estimates by a climate policy analysis initiative at Princeton University.

That’s a “yawning gap unlikely to be bridged by executive action or state policy alone,” Jesse Jenkins, the project’s director, said in a statement.

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