Joe Biden’s bold climate agenda is in doubt following objections from a pivotal coal-state Democratic senator, undermining the US push for global action at next month’s climate summit in Glasgow.
Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator, has made clear to the White House that he would not support the Clean Electricity Performance Program, a $150bn measure included in the president’s sweeping $3.5tn spending bill that provides incentives for power companies to shift away from fossil fuels.
The provision is one of the main ways the Biden administration and many Democrats expect the US to meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030, from 2005 levels.
But it risks being gutted in the final stretch of negotiations on Biden’s economic agenda because of Manchin’s opposition, alarming many Democrats and climate experts.
“What sort of authority can the United States have here if we cannot deliver on our own pledge, which includes reducing carbon emissions by 50 per cent within the next the 10 years?” said Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, who also warned in a tweet that Manchin threw a “hand grenade” at the Glasgow summit.
“Other heads of state will certainly realise that the US is not in a position to make good on this pledge if we can’t pass legislation in congress that codifies this commitment,” he told the FT.
Senior Biden administration officials on Sunday played down Manchin’s opposition.
“The administration and the president are committed to bold climate action, exactly what legislative form that takes is what’s being negotiated right now,” said Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, on CNN.
“The bottom line is we have to act on climate, for the good of our children and, by the way, for the good of our economy.”
One person familiar with the negotiations said the CEPP measure was not necessarily off the table, and that the White House had not made any decisions about looking at other options. The Biden administration has been open to adjusting the plan to satisfy Manchin’s concerns. This could include allowing natural gas and coal producers to qualify for the incentives as long as they employed carbon capture technology. But it is unclear that this would be a sufficient compromise.
A spokesperson for Manchin said: “Senator Manchin has clearly expressed his concerns about using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing. He continues to support efforts to combat climate change while protecting American energy independence and ensuring our energy reliability.”
Some Democrats, including Ron Wyden, the chair of the Senate finance committee, have been pushing the White House and other lawmakers to embrace a carbon tax in the legislation. But it is unclear whether Biden would be comfortable with a major new tax policy change that he did not campaign on in 2020.
While several other climate provisions are expected to survive in the bill, including funding for electric vehicle charging stations and renewable energy tax credits, Mann said only a “market mechanism” would help renewable energy compete to the point that it will yield “rapid decarbonisation”.
Meanwhile, rank-and-file Democrats who see climate measures as arguably the most important elements of Biden’s spending action warned of the global consequences of slashing the bill.
“We will soon be in Glasgow at COP26. The world knows the stakes. They see our west on fire. They see bigger fires in Australia. Even bigger ones in Siberia. Soot settling on the Arctic. Multiple countries within decades of being underwater,” tweeted Sean Casten, an Illinois Democrat.
The COP26 climate summit in Scotland runs from October 31 to November 12. The US hopes to present a “show of leadership” at the summit, according to officials, and is expected to send a large delegation including the president and cabinet secretaries. However, that push would be undermined if there is still no clear plan for the US to reach the new climate targets it set out in April.
In the run-up to COP26, the US has also been spearheading a global pledge to reduce methane emissions — which 33 countries have signed — and has said it will double its climate finance contributions overseas, to reach $11.4bn annually by 2024, pending Congressional approval.
However, some European countries are unimpressed with the climate finance pledge in particular, because it begins several years in the future and does not have clear funding secured, according to diplomats.
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