How Biden won a good chunk of his climate plan

Over the past year, President Joe Biden has seen parts of his domestic agenda jettisoned in an effort to keep it afloat. Free community college, funding for child care, expanded preschool—it’s all behind us.

But there was at least one critical piece that came out largely intact, though not unscathed. legislation approved by the senate over the weekend includes nearly $400 billion for clean energy initiatives, the nation’s largest investment in the fight against global warming.

The measure, which includes other provisions on taxes and prescription drugs, is expected to pass the House on Friday before going to Biden’s desk for his signature. In a statement to The Associated Press, Biden said the legislation will help fulfill his campaign promise to “build a clean energy future and create jobs for the American workers who build that future.”

“Our children and grandchildren will remember this for years to come: This bill changes their lives and secures their future more than almost anything Washington has done for decades,” he said.

For the White House, the end result is evidence of an approach — more focused on incentives than regulations or sanctions — that was born out of failure to promote climate policy more than a decade ago, when Biden was serving as vice president.

After President Barack Obama took office in 2009, Democrats began pushing legislation that would create a cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal would have limited emissions and would force industries to purchase permits to release emissions, creating a financial incentive to operate cleaner.

But with the economy still struggling to recover from the recession and Republicans in opposition, the legislation stalled in 2010. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat running for Senate at the time, launched a campaign ad in which he fired a rifle at a copy of the bill.

Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, was working on Capitol Hill at the time. She said the failure was “absolutely devastating to the climate community, and really led to some deep reflection and introspection.”

Another setback came in 2018, when voters in Washington state rejected a carbon tax. If the idea couldn’t even get traction in such a liberal corner of the country, Goldfuss said, what chance did it have nationally?

Learning from the failures: how @JoeBiden won the climate plan. #USPoli #ClimateChange

Feldman said Biden’s experience as vice president influenced his thinking on climate policy when he began running for the White House in 2019.

“I had seen President Obama work very hard to get cap and trade across the finish line,” he said. “He knew we had to try something different.”

Ali Zaidi, the White House deputy national climate adviser, said Biden was helped by the fact that clean energy had become more affordable and recognizable in recent years.

“This is a set of technologies and a set of solutions for which the time has come,” he said. “He was able to speak to an American people who knew tangibly what this meant, and the economy aligned to drive action.”

White House officials said they have made a sustained effort to build, and hold together, a coalition that includes unions, environmentalists and industry. For example, Zaidi and national climate adviser Gina McCarthy went to Colorado last September for the board meeting of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities. Other meetings involved autoworkers, miners and clean energy companies.

Climate policy was included in Biden’s larger national agenda, which included expanded safety net and educational programs. Biden soon hit a snag when a centerpiece of his plan to get utilities off fossil fuels, known as the clean electricity standard, was left on the drawing board. Then everything came to a halt when negotiations between the White House and Manchin stalled in December.

Manchin began speaking again with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D−NY, this year, beginning with dinner at an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill. White House officials also kept their eyes on him. Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, traveled to West Virginia with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in March.

However, negotiations began break again last month.

“People were holding their breath,” Zaidi said.

Behind the scenes, White House counsel Steve Ricchetti continued to speak with Manchin, according to administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Other Democratic senators kept quiet pressure on Manchin as well to bring it back to the table.

As Biden considered whether declare a climate emergency, Manchin and Schumer resumed negotiations. They announced a deal on July 27.

Schumer acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that “the climate was difficult” to understand in the negotiations. Manchin is a longtime supporter of coal and oil, and Schumer said he “knew he was going to add some tough stuff.”

Manchin successfully sought more government auctions for oil drilling on federal lands and waters. He also secured a commitment to help with a natural gas pipeline in his state.

Schumer said he had a “north star” during the negotiations, which meant substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“As long as we reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere by 40% (Biden’s bill was 45), we could swallow some bad stuff,” he explained.

Schumer said, “And I talked to some of my caucus members and they said, ‘Go ahead, we’ll have your back if you have to swallow bad stuff to get a good bill.'”

The final package of climate proposals has been cut from the original $555 billion plan, but is still packed with financial incentives for clean energy.

The manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines would generate tax credits for companies. More money would help Americans buy electric vehicles or make their homes energy efficient.

“The bill gives people the tools to be part of the climate solution and make sense for their pocketbook,” Feldman said.

There are still a few sticks left to go with the carrots.

A crucial element of the bill would charge oil and gas companies fees for excess methane emissions from drilling sites. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a key contributor to global warming and has a stronger short-term climate impact than even carbon dioxide.

The methane tariff was the top priority for Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a close Biden ally.

“If we want to make real progress on climate change in a short time, a great place to start is with methane,” Carper said in an interview.

But in a sign of the crucial role played by Manchin, the final version of the bill includes a grant program that rewards energy companies that take steps to reduce methane emissions at drilling sites.

Carper called the provision a compromise, noting that he and his staff worked with Manchin to address a number of “concerns raised by Joe on behalf of the oil and gas industry.”

Regardless of the compromises, environmentalists were delighted with the outcome after bracing for another setback.

“This is a victory that defines the legacy of this administration and a landmark achievement for the entire climate community that contributed to it,” said Nathaniel Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “After years of inaction in Congress, we are now making remarkable and historic progress.”

Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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