Democratic leaders have reached an agreement with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia on a package to fund climate action, capping off a contentious battle over a bill that just a week ago seemed dead in the water.
Manchin’s office announced that he would vote for the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which along with instating a minimum tax on corporations and reforming prescription drug pricing, would funnel $369 billion toward tackling “energy security and climate change,” according to a summary of the bill.
The proposal claims these investments would reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030, falling short of Biden’s goal to slash them by at least 50 percent. The bill would not rule out additional fossil fuel infrastructure, Manchin was careful to say, while also investing in hydrogen, nuclear power, and renewable energy.
“I support a plan that will advance a realistic energy and climate policy that lowers prices today and strategically invests in the long game,” he said in a press release. “As the super power of the world, it is vital we not undermine our super power status by removing dependable and affordable fossil fuel energy before new technologies are ready to reliably carry the load.”
The release also notes that Congress is committed to considering “commonsense permitting reforms” for energy infrastructure this fall — a possible indication that the embattled Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas from shale fields in West Virginia to southern Virginia and has Manchin’s support, could end up being approved.
President Biden celebrated the agreement, confirming that he spoke with Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday. The bill “will improve our energy security and tackle the climate crisis – by providing tax credits and investments for energy projects,” he said in a statement. “This will create thousands of new jobs and help lower energy costs in the future.
Early reactions from climate advocates were mixed, with some signaling support for the agreement and others saying it falls short. “The reported agreement between Senator Manchin and Leader Schumer presents the opportunity for a major breakthrough in America’s fight against climate change,” Jamal Raad, executive director of the advocacy group Evergreen Action, wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the political nonprofit Food & Water Action, argued that the deal would “prop up fossil fuels and promote the various false climate solutions beloved by industry.”
“After dragging his feet for more than a year, Senator Manchin announced an agreement that won’t solve the crisis, and may make it worse,” Hauter said in a press release. “More subsidies for dirty hydrogen, carbon capture, and nuclear energy are not climate action, they are the opposite.”
The announcement comes just over a week after reports that Manchin would not support climate legislation due to concerns over inflation left Democrats scrambling to reassure voters that Biden could still pursue a climate agenda. But it’s a significantly pared-down version of the president’s original climate ambitions, which included nearly half a trillion dollars in clean energy tax credits and other climate-related measures as part of last year’s Build Back Better bill.
Because Republicans are nearly unanimous in their opposition to acting on climate change, Schumer has pinned his hopes on passing climate legislation along party lines through a process called budget reconciliation. But that requires Democrats, who hold exactly half of the seats in the Senate, to vote in unison — and so far they’ve been unable to do so.
Last November, after House Democrats voted to pass Build Back Better with no Republican support, the legislation stalled in the Senate when Manchin, as well as Senator Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, refused to support the bill. (Manchin is heavily invested in coal in his home state and has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the energy industry).
For several months, the ensuing negotiations and tentative deals did not result in anything resembling comprehensive climate action. That changed on Wednesday, although Sinema did not say whether she would support the new bill, leaving some uncertainty about its chances of success. The Senate could consider the legislation as soon as next week.
Additional reporting by Zoya Teirstein.