Joe Manchin’s objections to clean energy program threaten Biden climate promises

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President Biden had promised to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, but a critical tool the administration planned to use to achieve that goal now appears out of reach.

The New York Times reported Friday that Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, had indicated to the White House that he opposed the key climate measure in Biden’s multibillion-dollar climate and social program package.

The president needs the support of the 50 Democratic senators to push the measure through a process known as reconciliation.

The program in question is the $ 150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would financially reward utilities that switch to renewables and penalize those that do not. Experts say the program would significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution from power generation, which today accounts for about a quarter of U.S. emissions.

Manchin disagrees with his fellow Democrats

Manchin, who heads the Senate committee on energy and natural resources, said during a CNN appearance in September that energy companies are already in the process of switching to clean energy.

“Now they want to pay companies to do what they’re already doing,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me that we take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do during the market transition.”

Manchin’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on Saturday.

Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota and champion of clean energy measures, said in an interview with the Star Tribune newspaper that Manchin’s characterization is “just not right”.

“Basically what we’re doing is providing assistance to utilities, so they can quickly add clean power without increasing utility rates,” Smith said.

Links to the fossil fuel industry

Coal is a dominant industry in the home state of Manchin, West Virginia.

In 2019, the state is the second largest producer of American coal and depends on this fuel for 91% of its energy needs. The energy sector accounts for 6% of state employment, compared to a national average of around 2%.

The senator also has personal financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Last year, according to his public financial disclosure, Manchin received approximately $ 492,000 in stock dividends from Enersystems, Inc., the coal company he founded in 1988, which is now controlled by his son Joseph. . According to OpenSecrets, which tracks political fundraisers, Manchin is the biggest recipient of donations from the oil and gas and coal mining industries this election cycle.

After Manchin’s reported opposition to the clean energy program was announced, Smith issued a warning to the White House. on Twitter.

“Let’s be clear: the Build Back Better budget must significantly tackle climate change,” said Smith, using the administration’s branding for the legislative package.

“I’m open to different approaches, but I can’t support a bill that won’t get us where we need to be on emissions,” Smith said. “There are 50 Democratic senators. All of us are needed to get this passed.”

Smith told NPR this month that she and Manchin were in regular contact over Manchin’s concerns.

American credibility is at stake

In two weeks, world leaders will gather in Scotland for a major United Nations climate change conference, COP26.

President Biden and John Kerry, his climate envoy, are working to strengthen the credibility of the United States on climate issues after years of inaction and denial of climate change.

In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Kerry said the administration’s difficulties in adopting its own climate policies are hampering efforts to boost climate action abroad.

“I’m not going to pretend that’s the best way to send the best message. I mean, we have to do these things,” Kerry said. He said if Congress fails to pass important climate change legislation, “it would be as if President Trump stepped back from the Paris agreement.”

A crucial moment for the health of the planet

Kerry also indicated that conference talks are unlikely to succeed in securing the commitments that would be needed, if kept, to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, by compared to pre-industrial levels.

Under current global commitments, global emissions are expected to increase by about 16% in 2030, compared to 2010. This would put the planet on track to warming more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

At this point, rising sea levels would flood the coasts, extreme heat waves would be significantly more frequent, and more intense flooding and droughts would potentially displace tens of millions of people.

Lauren Sommer contributed reporting.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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