Biden’s climate plan at risk, Democrats race to strike deal
WASHINGTON — With a centrepiece of U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate change strategy all but dashed, Democratic lawmakers headed to the White House Tuesday searching for new ways to narrow, reshape and swiftly wrap up negotiations on what had been his sweeping $3.5-trillion US budget plan.
Nearly 20 centrist and progressive lawmakers were meeting in separate groups with Biden as Democrats review a “menu” of alternative emission-reducing strategies — one of the most crucial issues for voters who support the president and his party — and race to reach accord on his overall package.
Among the climate-change-fighting proposals being considered are a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, a methane emissions fee and tax breaks for energy providers who hit certain emissions goals.
The Democrats need to find tactics that can be accepted by both centrists and moderates, whose votes are all needed in the evenly divided Senate. Senators want to reach a framework this week ahead of month-end deadlines.
“Our goal is to continue to make progress,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said simply of the day’s fast-moving events.
Biden’s main climate-fighting plan seems all but dead. A key holdout, conservative Sen. Joe Manchin from coal-state West Virginia, has made it clear he is opposing the president’s proposal to have the government provide financial rewards to electric utilities that meet clean energy benchmarks and impose penalties on utilities that don’t, in line with the president’s goal of achieving 80% “clean electricity” by 2030.
The alternative strategies being compiled and assessed could align with Manchin’s stated goal of keeping a “fuel neutral” approach to federal policy that does not favour renewable energy sources over coal and natural gas that are dominant in his state — though the senator told reporters a carbon tax was not at all in the mix. “Everybody’s talking,” Manchin said.
Biden wants to show progress on his entire package of expanded social services as well as climate change efforts, now being scaled back to about $2 trillion, by the time he departs for a global climate summit next week. And he’s not alone.
“There was universal — universal — agreement in that room that we have to come to an agreement and we [have] got to get it done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after a lengthy lunch at the Capitol that senators described as “lively” and “spirited.”
Schumer said he, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are talking daily.
“What I told our caucus was, everyone is going to be disappointed in certain things but everyone is going to be glad about certain things,” Schumer said. “And overall getting something done of this magnitude for the American people is a huge, huge, huge accomplishment.”
Tackling climate change has been a cornerstone of the president’s “Build Back Better” proposal, his sweeping plan to bolster federal government spending on health care, child care and other social services while addressing the climate crisis that Democratic voters say is one of their most important issues.
Failure to act on climate change would have far-reaching consequences in the U.S. and abroad. Advocates warn that inaction could cost the U.S. billions of dollars in weatherrelated disasters and threaten to uproot millions of Americans in hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods.
Without Manchin’s support, however, the Clean Energy Performance Plan is almost certain to be eliminated from the package, lawmakers and aides say.
Instead, lawmakers are eyeing a package of tax changes from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee, who has argued that the bulk of greenhouse gas emission cuts would come from an energy tax overhaul he is spearheading.
Among tax changes his committee is considering are tax credits for energy producers that reduce emissions, and pollution fees to be paid by industries for every ton of planet-warming carbon dioxide they emit.