Sunday, December 5, 2021

Lone Democratic Senator Blocks Biden’s Climate Agenda Ahead Of COP26

With the UN conference on climate change due to begin in less than two weeks, a vital part of the Biden administration’s climate agenda is threatened with death in the US Senate at the hands of a member of the president’s own party.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat representing West Virginia, said he would not endorse key clean energy clauses in the administration’s Build Back Better, which includes infrastructure and social spending programs. Since the Democrats have only 50 seats in the 100-member Senate and expect zero votes from the Republicans, Manchin can repeal the bill by giving up his vote.

He indicated last week that he would do just that if the Clean Energy Efficiency Program, considered a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s climate plan, were part of the bill. The CEPP will reward electricity producers who start the transition to renewables at a rate of 4% per year or more, and punish those who do not.

The economy of the home state of Manchin is disproportionately dependent on fossil fuels, so oil and gas companies, coal mining companies and natural gas transportation companies all have considerable political muscle. The West Virginia coal industry will be particularly hard hit by CEPP because 90% of the state’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.

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Manchin also scrapped other efforts this week to meet the administration’s emission-reduction goals, this time by imposing a carbon tax. To the disappointment of many in his party, Manchin has not offered any alternatives that come close to the type of emissions impact that the Biden administration is aiming for.

Bold promises

On his first day in office, Biden announced that the United States would join the Paris Agreement, a climate agreement that had been abandoned by his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump. In April, Biden announced that his goal is to reduce the US’s climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions to 50–52% from 2005 levels.

Experts say the 4% annual increase in electricity generation from renewable energy sources required by CEPP is necessary to meet the emission reduction target.

The bold pledge was intended to showcase a renewed US leadership in the global effort to combat climate change and was made with an eye to next month’s UN Climate Summit, also known as COP26. The administration recently announced that it will send 13 members of the Biden cabinet to the summit to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, demonstrating a very high level of commitment across the entire spectrum of the federal government.

FILE – John Kerry, the U.S. President’s Special Envoy for Climate Affairs, holds a press conference during the pre-COP26 climate meeting in Milan, Italy on October 2, 2021.

Empty-handed at COP 26?

But Manchin’s reluctance to budge on climate issues puts the president in danger of traveling to Glasgow with little other than good intentions to demonstrate his first 10 months in office.

Other Democrats in Congress have warned of the dangers of not taking significant action. Former U.S. Senator John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, told The Associated Press that this would exacerbate the reputational damage the U.S. suffered when Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said: The keeper newspaper, it will make the US delegation look “ridiculous,” adding, “It will be bad for the US leadership, bad for the negotiations, and bad for the climate. It’s just a disaster. “

Manchin’s claims

Manchin said the energy industry is moving to renewable energy on its own, and that it doesn’t make sense to spend taxpayer dollars on what’s already happening.

Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said Manchin’s assessment of the industry’s progress is correct.

“We can do this if … we allow the development, commercialization and then use of various carbon capture technologies in the coal and gas sectors,” Hamilton said. “Our goal is also to reduce our carbon footprint, you know. Nobody objects to this. “

Climate change protester mocks Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., who blocked President Joe Biden's internal plans, at the Washington Capitol on October 20, 2021.

Climate change protester mocks Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., who blocked President Joe Biden’s internal plans, at the Washington Capitol on October 20, 2021.

But climate activists sharply dispute what Manchin has characterized the industry’s progress in reducing emissions.

Manchin’s claims are “clearly false,” said Michael O’Boyle, director of electricity policy at Energy Innovation, a think tank on energy and climate policy in San Francisco.

“Over the past five years, from 2016 to 2020, the US has added about 1.1% annually to its share of clean energy,” he said. “In 2020 alone, we reached a record 2.3%, which is hardly more than half of the 4% growth.”

Manjin’s personal interests

Critics of the West Virginia senator also point out that Manchin has a significant personal financial interest in the coal industry. He owns between $ 1 million and $ 5 million in shares of Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage company he founded and is now run by his son. Over the past decade, the company has paid him nearly $ 5 million.

When asked about this apparent conflict of interest, Manchin protested for years that his assets were in a blind trust fund. However, its Senate financial disclosure forms explicitly mention Enersystems.

Manchin also receives major campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry as a whole, raising more than $ 250,000 to date in the 2022 election cycle.

FILE.  Coal wagons fill a train station in Williamson, West Virginia on November 11, 2016.  The coal industry has been shrinking for decades as demand for coal in the United States falls.

FILE. Coal wagons fill a train station in Williamson, West Virginia on November 11, 2016. The coal industry has been shrinking for decades as demand for coal in the United States falls.

A dying industry

The frustration of fellow Democratic Manchin is compounded by the fact that the coal industry, which he tries so hard to defend, has been shrinking for decades as demand for coal in the United States falls.

In 2020, the US Energy Information Administration found that the West Virginia coal industry, including “all employees involved in mining, preparation, processing, development, maintenance, repair shops, or sites employed in mining operations, including office workers,” 11418 people. , or about 1.4% of the state workforce.

These numbers are down slightly in 2020 due to the pandemic and are likely to rise when the 2021 data is released, but the long-term trend is pretty clear. Since the early 1950s, when more than 125,000 people were mining coal with picks and shovels in West Virginia, improved technology began to steadily reduce the number of people required to operate the state’s coal mines.

By the 1990s, the state’s industry employed fewer than 40,000 people and the number continued to decline.

Add to that the decline in demand as energy companies move to cleaner fuels, including natural gas, and the picture of a dying industry is complete. Coal production in West Virginia has plummeted, peaking at 158 ​​million tonnes in 2008, to less than 100 million tonnes in the past few years.

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