‘Last chance’: Greens push climate compromise with Manchin

Now many environmentalists say it’s time to throw in the towel on some of the progressives social policies in order to secure closer agreement on Manchin terms.

“We believe this is the last chance for reconciliation,” said Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress. “We are talking about years, maybe another decade before we have another opportunity. Either it will now come together around this framework that Manchin said he accepted, or it’s over. We feel the finality of this through the climate movement.

The West Virginia centrist, who chairs the powerful energy committee, recently reopened the door to a smaller reconciliation package by publicly outlining a framework to tackle climate change using tax breaks for a host of technologies clean energy while rolling back the 2017 Republican tax cuts and reforming prescription drug pricing.

But Manchin is also urging Biden to restart new offshore oil and gas lease sales and accelerate natural gas exports to increase U.S. energy security and reduce inflated energy prices caused by chain constraints. supplies and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Green organizations are willing to compromise for legislation that helps accelerate clean energy growth that offers a short-term boost to fossil fuels in order to reach a deal by Memorial Day, fearing that any chance for climate action is blocked. whether Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm elections.

“There may be a price to be paid on the [oil and gas] on the supply side, and that could hurt,” said Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club.

This is shaping up to be a moment of judgment for the climate movement.

Early in Biden’s term, environmental groups teamed up with progressive allies to pressure Democrats to make historic investments in climate, labor, public health and justice initiatives.

They cheered when House Democrats in November passed a $2.2 trillion version of the build back better Act containing a comprehensive set of policies, including expanding access to health and child care, universal pre-kindergarten provision, extension of child tax credit and earmarking a record $555 billion to fight climate change.

But Manchin killed the Senate’s version of that bill in December, dashing the hopes of climate hawks and forcing them to wrestle with tough choices about which policies to favor.

Environmental groups insist their progressive coalition remains united, though they stress Democrats should focus on passing a narrower bill that includes clean energy incentives without other social policies .

And they say the United States must act quickly because national and global emissions are off track that climate scientists say is needed to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change.

“We are part of a broad and diverse coalition that is pushing for as much progress as possible. It seems what is possible is a narrower package. I don’t think about it because we are abandoning other priorities. We’re trying to maximize progress and meet the climate moment,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters. “That’s it, it’s our shot. We need to.

Other environment leaders are resigned to the legislative reality that Senate Democrats must give in to Manchin’s demands, or risk adopting nothing of their agenda.

“I don’t think we’re driving the direction as a climate community,” said David Kieve, president of Environmental Defense Fund Action, who was a senior environmental official in the Biden administration until January. “Sen. Manchin has been pretty clear about where his bright lines are. Parts of the President’s agenda won’t be included in there. road ?’ The alternative would be to get nothing.

Climate activists are optimistic Manchin will continue to support the hundreds of billions of expanded clean energy tax subsidies included in the defunct bill. These credits primarily targeted wind and solar, but also supported other technologies favored by Manchin, such as nuclear power, hydrogen and carbon capture.

Climate advocates have already given up a lot, Sittenfeld noted. Manchin rejected the more aggressive policy, a program that would have paid electric utilities to deploy clean energy and penalized those who don’t. Other elements, such as imposing fines on oil and gas producers for methane leaks or banning offshore drilling, seem unlikely to be included in legislation.

And more sacrifice will likely be needed to retain Manchin’s support, Pierce noted, since he has spoken openly about boosting US oil and gas production to counter Russian energy and influence.

Biden has set a goal to cut U.S. greenhouse gases 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal that will be extremely difficult to achieve without legislation. Last week, senior administration officials claimed there were still multiple paths to reach that mark. without Congress, although they did not provide details.

Among the groups gaining momentum on Capitol Hill is Evergreen Action, a climate group created by former aides to Washington Governor Jay Inslee. That prompted the senators to commit to prioritizing the passage of climate policies, according to two people familiar with the group’s conversations.

“The next step is prioritization — and a demanding hierarchy — knowing the urgency of the timelines we are looking at,” said Jamal Raad, Executive Director of Evergreen Action. “There are going to be tough choices.”

Two Senate Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations around the potential legislation, said the demands of environmental groups have come through loud and clear in recent discussions.

“Climate advocates based on our conversations are very pragmatic and just want to see how you can get the climate coins across the finish line. We’ve communicated that wearing climate coins with one or two other things is a way to do that,” said a Democratic Senate aide, who listed drug price reform and health care subsidies as two other policy areas that Manchin could support.

Not all environmentalists agree with Democrats’ curtailing ambitions in pursuit of a deal with Manchin.

Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media and co-founder of 350.org, argued that a package centered on clean energy tax credits would not do enough to inspire young voters who supported Biden and the Democrats for their broad social policy agenda.

“Voters want to see Democrats deliver on their promises,” Henn said. “That means passing a big package that prioritizes climate justice, invests in programs that help low-income families, and excludes any additional aid for fossil fuels. We know Democrats can’t pass the entire Green New Deal all at once, but it’s Politics 101 that the more popular things you bundle together, the more popular the package becomes.

Other climate activists, however, say clean energy incentives would be a big driver for new solar and wind and would go a long way toward delivering on Biden’s climate promises, which were a big driver for people’s participation. youth.

“Tax credits and clean energy investments are incredibly powerful. It’s a story we can tell if reconciliation were to happen,” Goldfuss said.