How Joe Manchin Doomed the Democrats’ Climate Plan

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WASHINGTON — First, he killed a plan that would have forced power plants to clean up their climate-warming pollution. Next, he destroyed an effort by consumers to finance electric vehicles. Finally, he stated that he would not support government incentives to solar and wind companies, or any other provisions that his president and the rest of his party believe are essential for a sustainable planet.

Senator Joe Manchin III, West Virginia More campaign cash was spentMore senators have been influenced by the oil and gas industry that any other senator. Who became a millionaire?His family coal business. Independently blew up the Democratic Party’s legislative plans to fight climate change. Mr. Manchin, the swing Democratic vote in a evenly divided Senate, led his party through months-long tortured negotiations that ended on Thursday night. This was the end of a year-long wild goose chase that produced no results as the Earth heats to dangerous levels.

“It seems odd that Manchin would choose as his legacy to be the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity,” said John Podesta, a former senior counselor to President Barack Obama and founder of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

Privately, Senate Democratic staff members seethed and sobbed on Thursday night, after more than a year of working nights and weekends to scale back, water down, trim and tailor the climate legislation to Mr. Manchin’s exact specifications, only to have it rejected inches from the finish line.

“Rage keeps me from tears,” Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a longtime advocate for climate legislation, wrote on Twitter late Thursday.

Mr. Manchin’s refusal to support the climate legislation, along with steadfast Republican opposition, effectively dooms the chances that Congress will pass any new law to tackle global warming for the foreseeable future — at a moment when scientists say the planet is nearly out of time to prevent average global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

This is the threshold at which catastrophic droughts, floods and fires are more likely. The average temperature of the planet is now 1.1 degrees Celsius.

A Poll conducted in May, earlyThe Pew Research Center revealed that 58 percent of Americans think the federal government does not do enough to reduce global warming. 22 percent agreed with this assessment and 18 percent disagreed. The same survey found that 71% of respondents said their community was affected by extreme weather over the last year. A majority of them linked this to climate change.

The United States has been pledged by President Biden to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, as it is the country that has historically released the most. Without legislation, it will be impossible to meet Mr. Biden’s climate goals.

“We are not going to meet our targets, period,” said Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Santa Barbara, California, who has advised congressional Democrats on climate legislation.

“I honestly don’t know how he is going to look his own grandchildren in the eyes,” she said of Mr. Manchin.

Mr. Manchin indicated that the top concern of his was the rising price at the pump, and the increasing demand for fossil fuels. “How do we bring down the price of gasoline?” he said. “From the energy thing, but you can’t do it unless you produce more. If there’s people that don’t want to produce more fossil, then you got a problem. That’s just reality. You got to do it.”

On Wednesday, after data was released showing the nation’s inflation rate at 9.1 percent, the highest in a year, Mr. Manchin said in a statement, “No matter what spending aspirations some in Congress may have, it is clear to anyone who visits a grocery store or a gas station that we cannot add any more fuel to this inflation fire.”

Sam Runyon, a spokeswoman for Mr. Manchin, declined to discuss his position on Thursday night, adding that the senator “has not walked away from the table.” But people involved in the talks said they believed they had reached the end of the line.

On Thursday night, White House officials didn’t respond to multiple calls.

For a year and half, climate activists have described themselves as Charlie Brown to Mr. Manchin’s Lucy. They came close to a deal that many Democrats thought was possible, but Mr. Manchin pulled his support away at the last moment.

They might have been able to see it coming.

Mr. Manchin once ran a campaign advertisement in which he shot a bullet hole through Mr. Obama’s climate plan. So when Mr. Biden took office, vowing to enact the most ambitious climate change plan in the nation’s history, he knew Mr. Manchin would be his biggest obstacle.

Mr. Biden approached Mr. Manchin immediately with the help of Senate Democrats. As the White House began to write a $2 trillion spending and social-policy bill, which included climate action and health care, Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat of Oregon) reached out to Mr. Manchin.

Mr. Wyden was charged with writing the core of the climate legislation — about $300 billion in tax credits for producers and consumers of wind and solar power and buyers of electric vehicles. It would be the largest single expenditure the United States could make to combat climate change.

Mr. Wyden sought Mr. Manchin’s input to shape the tax package in such a way that the West Virginian would support it. Mr. Manchin accepted the offer and told Mr. Wyden that he would rewrite the tax package to meet his requirements. The tax credits could be used to finance nuclear energy and carbon capture and sequestration. Although this technology has not been proven commercially viable yet, it could theoretically allow power stations that burn coal, oil, or gas to continue their operations without causing climate change.

The changes were less than climate-friendly, but Mr. Wyden agreed to them, saying he believed it would help secure Mr. Manchin’s support.

At the same time, other Democrats were crafting an even more ambitious climate provision for the bill, known as a clean energy standard, that would have paid electric utilities to replace coal- and gas-fired power plants and penalized those that didn’t. In a confidential memo, Mr. Manchin (the chairman of the Senate energy & natural resources committee) secured control over the program’s design.

In December, Mr. Manchin appeared. Completely withdrawn from negotiationsHe stated that he would not vote against the overall spending package. For months, talks were dead.

The possibility of a future deal that is based upon the $300 billion in tax credits to electric vehicles and renewable energy was discussed by Mr. Manchin and other Democrats. But Mr. Manchin also insisted that spending be cut and that fossil fuels — coal, gas and oil — be included. Those demands grew more vociferous as winter turned to spring and Russia’s war against Ukraine rocked energy markets and gas prices soared.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gave Manchin a huge new bargaining authority, as did record inflation,” said Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute. That, he said, “changed the dynamic.”

In the last weeks, Democrats believed they were close to an agreement with Mr. Manchin on the climate package. But he wanted to remove billions of dollars worth of electric vehicle tax credits. He wanted to revise the clean energy tax package he had created with Mr. Wyden. This included a plan to provide developers of clean-energy direct payments upfront rather than tax credits that they could recoup after making their investment.

Staffers reported that Mr. Schumer granted every request. According to climate activists, Mr. Schumer spoke later that night with them about the possibility of a deal.

The White House also made concessions to Mr. Manchin.

This month, the Interior Department Offshore oil and gas leases are now available in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska — despite Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to end new drilling in federal waters — which two administration officials described as an effort to appease Mr. Manchin. The White House also was weighing whether to allow a path for other fossil fuel projects, like a gas pipeline in West Virginia, in order to gain Mr. Manchin’s vote.

According to administration officials several times, the administration delayed federal rules regarding methane, mercury, and other pollutants from oil-and gas facilities in order to not upset Mr. Manchin during sensitive negotiations. That’s two years lost time in a regulatory process that can be lengthy.

Activists felt like they were being sucked.

“He has pretended to be a fair arbiter,” Jamal Raad, executive director of the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, said of Mr. Manchin. “He talked about his grandchildren. It turns out that’s all bullshit. He cares about profits for his coal company and his own political future over the future of our planet.”

Ms. Runyon did not respond to Mr. Raad’s comments.

Two weeks after Mr. Manchin’s conservative majority was elected to the U.S. Supreme Court, negotiations collapsed with him. limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The decision left intact the E.P.A.’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions but blocked any attempt by the agency to write regulations so broad that they force the closure of coal-fired plants, which generate the most carbon dioxide, or compel utilities to switch to wind, solar and other clean sources from fossil fuels.

The court ruling, combined with the blockage in Congress, still leaves the administration with a few avenues to cut climate-warming pollution, although they will not be enough to meet Mr. Biden’s targets.

The E.P.A. It plans to issue more regulations to limit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, that leaks out of oil and gas wells. It also plans to impose stricter limits on the other forms of pollution caused by power plants such as mercury and smog. The idea is to make electric utilities clean up and shut down dirty facilities such as coal-burning power plant.

The administration plans to increase emissions from vehicle tailpipes but many other factors will be affected.These are the same litigantsSuccess in the Supreme Court’s power plant case is expected to lead to tougher tailpipe standards.

“We can’t throw in the towel on the planet, so it’s more important than ever that Biden use all his authority to fiercely fight for the future,” Mr. Podesta said.

Congress could pass legislation to extend tax incentives for electric vehicles and wind energy, but this would likely need Republican support.

Many states are making progress with their climate plans despite the federal shutdown. California is leading the charge, requiring that 100 percent of its electricity come from sources that don’t produce carbon dioxide by 2045.

One hundred and one other states have a version of this clean electricity standard. Others are considering legislation that will make it more stringent. California is expected to approve a first in-the-nation regulation, which will require that all new cars sold within the state be electric or emission-free by 2035. It is also expected that 17 other states will adopt the same rule.

Emily CochraneWashington, D.C. contributed reporting

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