Key to Biden’s Climate Agenda Likely to Be Cut Because of Manchin Opposition
WASHINGTON — The most powerful part of President Biden’s climate agenda — a program to rapidly replace the nation’s coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy — will likely be dropped from the massive budget bill pending in Congress, according to Congressional staffers and lobbyists familiar with the matter.
Senator Joe Manchin III, the Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia whose vote is crucial to the passage of the bill, has told the White House that he strongly opposes the clean electricity program, according to three of those people. As a result, White House staffers are now rewriting the legislation without that climate provision, and are trying to cobble together a mix of other policies that could also cut emissions.
A spokesman for the Biden administration declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for Mr. Manchin did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The $150 billion clean electricity program was the muscle behind Mr. Biden’s ambitious climate agenda. It would reward utilities that switched from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and penalize those that do not.
Experts have said that the policy would dramatically reduce the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet over the next decade and that it would be the strongest climate change policy ever enacted by the United States.
Democrats hoped to include it in the broader budget bill that would also expand the social safety net, which they plan to muscle through under a fast-track process known as reconciliation that would allow them to pass it without any Republican votes. The party is still trying to figure out how to pass the budget bill along with a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
For weeks, Democratic leaders have vowed that strong climate change provisions — specifically, the clean electricity program — would be at the heart of the package. Progressive Democrats held rallies chanting “No climate, no deal!”
Mr. Manchin, who has personal financial ties to the coal industry, had initially intended to write the details of the program as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Mr. Manchin was considering a clean electricity program that would reward utilities for switching from coal to natural gas, which is less polluting but still emits carbon dioxide and can leak methane, another greenhouse gas. Mr. Manchin’s home state, West Virginia, is one of the nation’s top producers of coal and gas.
But in recent days, Mr. Manchin indicated to the administration that he was now completely opposed to a clean electricity program, people familiar with the discussions said.
As a result, White House staffers are scrambling to calculate the impact on emissions from other climate measures in the bill, including tax incentives for renewable energy firms and tax credits for consumers who purchase electric vehicles. Unlike a clean electricity program, tax incentives tend to expire after a set period of time, and do not have the market-shifting power of a more durable strategy.
During a year of record and deadly droughts, wildfires, storms and floods that scientists say are worsened by climate change, Mr. Biden has sought to seed policies across the federal government to significantly lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions — largely carbon dioxide and methane. He has pledged to the rest of the world that the United States will cut its emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
In two weeks, Mr. Biden will face other world leaders at a major United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where he had hoped to point to the clean electricity program as evidence that the United States, the world’s largest historic emitter of planet-warming pollution, was serious about cutting its emissions and leading a global effort to fight climate change.
The rest of the world remains deeply wary of the United States’ commitment to tackling global warming after four years in which former President Donald J. Trump openly mocked the science of climate change and enacted policies that encouraged more drilling and burning of fossil fuels.
Mr. Biden had hoped that enactment of legislation that would clean up the energy sector, which produces about a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gases. He wanted a program with impacts that would last well after he leaves office, regardless of who occupies the White House.
Several other climate provisions remain in the bill, at least for now, including about $300 billion to extend existing tax credits for utilities, commercial businesses and homeowners that use or generate electricity from zero-carbon sources such as wind and solar and $32 billion in tax credits for individuals who purchase electric vehicles. It could also include $13.5 billion for electric-car charging stations and $9 billion to update the electric grid, making it more conducive to transmitting wind and solar power, and $17.5 billion to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from federal buildings and vehicles.
But, analysts say, while those spending programs will help make it easier and cheaper for the U.S. economy to transition to a less polluting future, they are unlikely to lead to the same kind of rapid transformation brought by the clean electricity program.
It is also possible that Democrats may try to push through the clean electricity program as a stand-alone bill — but the timeline for doing so is narrowing, with the 2022 midterm elections approaching.