The Washington Post
Joe Manchin’s climate deal is a miracle, but it’s not enough
Better late than never. The $369 billion to fight climate change in the deal announced Wednesday between Senate Democrats and the White House represents the nation’s biggest investment ever in the future of our overheating planet.
Congress should pass it quickly. Like, tomorrow. Before Hamlet — I mean Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.VA.) — changes his mind yet again.
For anyone who understands how desperately we need to make the transition to a clean-energy economy — and who also understands how difficult it is to do anything big in today’s dysfunctional Washington — the legislation announced by Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) looks like nothing short of a miracle.
A summary of the package released by its authors says it would “put the U.S. on a path” toward a 40 percent reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2030. Yes, climate scientists say we need to move even faster. But if you had told me as recently as last week that climate action this bold was even a remote possibility, I would have said you were delirious from this summer’s oppressive heat.
One thing the bill does is expand the market for the new, more mainstream electric cars and trucks that are becoming available. More motorists will be able to get a $7,500 tax credit for buying a new clean vehicle under the plan, which eliminates the current cap on the number of cars sold by each manufacturer that are eligible for the credit. And — for the first time — buyers can receive a credit of up to $4,000 for buying a used one. These changes make zero-emissions cars a more realistic option for low- and middle-income drivers as well as Tesla aficionados.
Car manufacturers would get $2 billion in grants to convert existing manufacturing plants to produce clean vehicles, along with up to $20 billion in loans to build new electric car manufacturing facilities. There are tax credits and grants for clean commercial vehicles as well — presumably such as the fleet of electric delivery trucks Amazon plans to deploy. If it’s corporate welfare, at least it’s in the national (and planetary) interest. (Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Post, is the founder of Amazon.)
Transportation is just the beginning. The bill also contains $30 billion in grants and loans to help state governments and utility companies accelerate the transition to clean sources of electric power. It includes $6 billion to reduce emissions from carbon-belching facilities such as chemical, steel and cement plants. It would provide $9 billion to encourage low-income families to use energy-efficient home appliances and offer tax credits for the next decade to consumers who make their homes more efficient by installing heat pumps, solar panels and other emissions-free or energy-saving devices.
The bill encourages and enables each of us — as individuals, as families, as neighborhoods — to do our part. Climate change is such a huge problem that it seems overwhelming. None of us can solve it alone. Still, each of us can take responsibility for doing what is within our power — and can take pride in making a contribution to our children’s and grandchildren’s future.
But this bill represents more than climate individualism. The ManchinSchumer package would spend $60 billion to funnel clean-energy investments into “disadvantaged communities.”
Environmental racism has long been shamefully ignored, and environmental justice has been delayed and denied. Poor communities traditionally get saddled with the worst-polluting industrial plants, and low-income residents suffer the health consequences. Many of those clean-air and clean-water problems remain to be addressed. But this bill at least seeks to ensure that those communities share in the economic benefits of the clean-energy revolution.
There is $27 billion in the bill to fund a “technology accelerator” to advance emissions-reducing technologies. The United States once led the world in producing solar panels; now, the leader is China. Wouldn’t it be great if that technology reached the point where solar panels looked and were installed just like regular shingles, a dream Tesla’s Elon Musk has floated but not quite achieved? Wouldn’t it be even better if that breakthrough were made in San Antonio rather than Shenzhen?
This legislation is no magic carpet whisking us to a decarbonized economy and past the worst-case scenarios that keep climate scientists up at night. Many experts believe the ultimate solution is to put a steep tax on carbon and let market forces do the rest.
This bill at least puts what amounts to a tax on excess emissions of methane, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas — a price that rises to $1,500 per metric ton by 2026. Baby steps, but in the right direction.
This could be our nation’s first truly significant attempt to meet the challenge of climate change. If we manage to take that first step, I’m happy to let historians credit two guys named Joe, no matter how much one of them wavered along the way.