Thursday, December 2, 2021

Democrats want to slow climate change in new bill

Central to President Biden’s climate agenda is meeting opposition from key moderate Democrats, raising questions about whether Congress will pass legislation that will significantly slow global warming.

Biden has set a goal to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 50% within a decade, a potentially insurmountable challenge without major changes to the way the nation’s electricity is generated.

Democrats hoped Biden’s Build Back Better program would serve as a unique opportunity to tackle climate change at a time when their party controls the White House and both houses of Congress.

But as the negotiations enter their most serious stages, the main climate clause is facing serious political opposition.

The Cleaner Electricity Efficiency Program, which will incentivize utilities to increase renewable energy use through a combination of fees and fines, is being opposed by Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democrat from the coal and gas mining state. … According to his most recent financial statements, he reported a $ 492,000 dividend on his family’s coal brokerage stock last year.

Most Democrats consider the clean electricity supply to be dead unless it is significantly weakened.

An alternative Democratic path to tackling climate change – a carbon tax on pollutants – has also received little support. Manchin and another Democrat, Senator John Tester of Montana, said it was unlikely to go into law.

“I am very worried. We’re not where we need to be on the climate, ”said Rep. Jared Huffman (Democrat for San Rafael), who met with Biden on Tuesday along with other Progressive Democrats. “I asked the president not to give up on my goal of reducing emissions by 50% by the end of this decade, because we cannot do it.”

Climate has become perhaps the most troublesome area of ​​politics in the Democrats’ bill that they hope will change national social protection programs.

Other parts of the banknote can be trimmed around the edges or reduced. But reducing the volume of climate regulations will defeat the goal of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

“This is one of the most challenging places for our meeting because we are still waiting to see where exactly the agreement is on how we are delivering carbon savings,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Washington State), Chair … the progressive faction of Congress, who also attended the meeting with Biden.

Rep. Ro Khanna (Democrat from Fremont) said progressive supporters will meet on Wednesday afternoon to consider alternative proposals for providing clean electricity for submission to the White House. “It was clear from the conversation [with Biden] that we need a lot more right now, ”he said.

After months of talking about what they can invest in their vast safety net and climate package, Democrats are starting serious negotiations about what proposals are and what not.

They need to take their $ 3.5 trillion proposal and cut it down to about $ 1.9 billion to meet the demands of Manchin and other centrists. Senate Democrats said Tuesday they hope to have a base by the end of the week.

In addition to cutting the clean energy plan, there probably won’t be a proposal for a free community college. The child tax credit extension can be reduced from a few years to one, and paid family leave can also be reduced from 12 weeks to 4 weeks. There may be no proposal to lift the cap on state and local tax deductions, known as SALT.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting with Biden, said some of the proposed cuts could be revisited if they generate significant opposition.

Climate policy experts cite the Clean Electricity Indicators Program as a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s efforts to tackle climate change.

The $ 150 billion program will use the carrot-and-stick approach to decarbonize the electricity sector, pushing utilities to increase the amount of energy from clean energy sources by at least 4% per year, roughly double the current rate of change. Those who do not meet this standard will be fined.

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The proposal accounts for about a third of the carbon cuts in the entire package, providing the foundation on which everything else is built.

For this reason, some Democrats are keen to find a way to enlist Manchin’s support. Huffman said he even suggested that Biden do part of the program for West Virginia, although such an idea is probably not politically feasible.

Unless utilities quickly start generating more energy from renewable sources, the United States will struggle to decarbonize transportation, home heating and manufacturing, experts said. Americans can buy more electric vehicles and heat pumps, but the electricity to run them will still come from fossil fuels.

As this program was threatened, Democrats were forced to consider other options that could attract the attention of moderate members of their party, including a carbon tax. The tax in question would levy a set price on pollutants for every ton of carbon emissions, but frees up gasoline so drivers don’t have to pay more at the gas station.

Economists’ favorite carbon tax proposals have been in Congress for years but have never found enough support to become more than a wish list. Most Republicans objected to any government action that could destroy oil and gas. And left-wing Democrats have criticized this policy, essentially allowing polluters to buy their way and get rid of the need to switch to cleaner energy sources.

On Tuesday, Manchin and Tester said they would not support him. “I’m not a big fan of the carbon tax. I just don’t think it works, ”Tester said.

Antonio Bento, a professor of public policy and economics at the USC who has advised the Biden administration on climate policy, said it was too early to rule out a carbon tax.

“One of the main benefits of a carbon tax, of course, is that it generates revenue,” he said. By donating money to lawmakers’ favorite projects, both conservatives and progressives may be able to support the idea, Bento said.

Without a clean electricity program or carbon tax, the Biden administration will find it extremely difficult to achieve its goal of reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by the end of the decade, climate policy experts said.

While the package contains many other climate policy proposals, none of them will help reduce emissions as dramatically or as quickly.

The most significant remaining climate proposal in the package is a set of incentives in the form of tax breaks for solar, wind and electric vehicle projects. While industry groups have lobbied for these loans as an effective way to accelerate the transition to renewables, incentives will not necessarily have a major impact on the decommissioning of coal and gas-fired power plants.

An alternative Senate proposal would provide tax breaks for companies that cut carbon emissions, with increased incentives as companies cut more. Senator Ron Wieden’s (Oregon) proposal from the Senate Finance Committee “has always been a pivot” in achieving Biden’s goal, he said. It is not yet known what tax breaks, if any, will be included in the final bill.

The political side of Wyden’s plan is that he can enlist the backing of Manchin, who is unwilling to prioritize renewables over coal and natural gas.

An analysis released Tuesday by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm that monitors climate policy, showed that the Biden administration still has other ways to achieve its climate goal. Federal agencies can take action to require polluting businesses and automakers to cut carbon emissions. States and corporations can also intervene where Congress is defeated.

Assuming the White House, federal agencies, states, and private companies take action – and Congress passes both the pending bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Democrats’ Social Spending and Climate Package – “we find that a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 is within reach, ”the report says.

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