The White House is scrambling to reassure Democratic voters that President Joe Biden can still take action on climate change after another blow to proposed climate legislation from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
On Sunday, White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein told CNN that Biden would pursue his climate agenda “with or without Congress,” using executive orders to reduce emissions despite obstruction from Congress. Also on Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont suggested Manchin had never been “serious” about supporting Biden’s proposed Build Back Better bill, which would have included nearly $570 billion to combat climate change through tax credits and investments.
The push comes after news broke late last week that Manchin, who holds millions of dollars in coal investments and received more than $400,000 in donations from the energy industry in one fundraising quarter last year, said he was opposed to passing climate policies, as well as tax increases on the wealthy needed to fund them, as long as inflation remains high.
Although Manchin announced his opposition to Build Back Better in December, he had left open the possibility of a stripped-down deal that still contained some climate provisions in return for abandoning other Democratic priorities, like paid family and medical leave and child care benefits. But Thursday’s reports of his resistance to any climate action immediately seemed to scuttle the latest round of negotiations over budget reconciliation, the Democrats’ preferred method for passing climate policy without Republican support.
Though Manchin later said he would wait to see what inflation looks like at the end of July before making a decision on the bill, Biden quickly pledged to take “strong executive action” on climate change — even as he visited Saudi Arabia in an attempt to secure commitments to increase oil production. He said in a statement on Friday that his actions would “create jobs, improve our energy security, bolster domestic manufacturing and supply chains, protect us from oil and gas price hikes in the future, and address climate change,” while not specifying what those actions might be.
This latest blow to Biden’s climate agenda came after a decision by the Supreme Court to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, although the EPA still has other avenues under the Clean Air Act to tackle emissions from energy sources like coal-fired power plants. At the same time, projections show that the US is running out of time to meet Biden’s goal of slashing emissions by 50 to 52 percent by the end of 2030 compared to 2005 levels, according to the Washington Post.
Manchin’s refusal to support climate legislation comes after one of the hottest Junes on record, as a record-breaking heat wave settles over Europe. Temperatures in the United Kingdom were expected to reach as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday and Tuesday, prompting Britain to issue its first-ever extreme heat warning, while wildfires raged in Spain, France, and Portugal. More than 1,000 people have died during the most recent heat wave in Portugal and Spain alone.
Legislators and activists urged the president to take immediate steps like ending fossil fuel leases on federal lands and declaring a climate emergency. On Twitter, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said that “with legislative climate options now closed, it’s now time for executive Beast Mode.” He had earlier pushed for a “robust social cost of carbon rule,” which would require executive agencies to calculate the damages from continued carbon dioxide emissions when considering any new actions or initiatives.
The Sunrise Movement, a youth climate action organization, suggested using the Defense Production Act to accelerate the transition to renewable energy as well as ending permits for new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“Our democracy is broken when one man who profits from the fossil fuel industry can defy the 81 million Americans who voted for Democrats to stop the climate crisis,” Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “Biden must declare a climate emergency, and do everything in his executive power to stop the climate crisis immediately. That’s the only way he can salvage his presidency and save our generation.”