US President Joe Biden will arrive at COP 26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Glasgow next week, with the promise, if not the guarantee, that the United States is on the verge of committing in the largest single investment in the fight against climate change in history.
The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress on Thursday announced a scaled-down version of the presidential Build Back Better program for climate and social spending. Although less ambitious than previous versions, the package contains $ 555 billion in spending aimed at reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to between 50 and 52% of 2005 levels by 2030.
This matches the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) the United States pledged to when the Biden administration joined the Paris climate change agreement earlier this year. According to activists and experts, this significantly strengthens Biden’s ability to assert a leadership role for the United States in the global effort to slow climate change.
“Show us first”
“Without it, I think it would have been extremely difficult for the US delegation to come forward with a credible claim that the US is ‘back’,” said Michael Mehling, deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environmental. Massachusetts Institute Policy Research. of Technology.
“He has an NDC of 50% to 52%, and he has the means to do it,” he told VOA. “Without that I think people would have just said, ‘Yeah, show us first.'”
In a statement released Thursday, Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce praised the President and Congressional Democrats for “pushing forward a bold vision for historic climate action,” and urged lawmakers to finalize a deal on legislation as soon as possible.
“This is a bold vision for clean energy and climate action that the President can present to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to demonstrate that the United States is committed to take the immediate and bold action needed to tackle the climate crisis as a top priority, ”said Pierce. “We urge Congress to immediately issue a comprehensive Build Back Better Act that delivers on this promise, because we don’t have time to wait. “
The president and his allies behave as if they are on the cusp of a major legislative achievement. However, it remains possible that internal feuds and political disagreements between Democrats on Capitol Hill could derail the deal as final legislation is in the works.
The two jokers are West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who have not said they will definitely back the package.
Manchin has already forced his colleagues to remove some of the climate elements from the original package, which he saw as too punitive to existing fossil fuel companies. Manchin, whose state has a long history of coal mining and still depends on coal-fired power plants for much of its electricity, also has a financial stake in the coal industry.
He also expressed hesitation over a non-climate part of the package that would provide benefits to families with young children.
Sinema shot down several versions of the package over disagreements over how to pay for it. She opposed increasing tax rates and changing the way investments are taxed on death. It is unclear whether she will support the current package, which contains income tax surcharges for people earning more than $ 10 million a year, and on the income that business owners receive on a “basis.” transfer ”.
Because Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate, Manchin or Sinema could torpedo Biden’s Build Back Better package – including climate change provisions – by voting no.
The bulk of the bill’s climate spending is $ 320 billion in tax credits, spread over 10 years, aimed at making a wide range of green technologies cheaper and easier to implement.
Among other things, it would reduce the price of installing home solar panels by about 30% and offer discounts of up to $ 12,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle, provided it is manufactured in the States. -United with domestic parts and unionized labor. The package would also create financial incentives for the development of clean public transport, buses and trucks.
The next most important piece of the package is $ 110 billion to incentivize the creation of a national supply chain for the delivery of products that will be critical to a broad electrification of the United States, including batteries, solar cells and other technologies.
An additional $ 105 billion would be used to strengthen the resilience of communities already experiencing the drastic effects of climate change from extreme weather events. This includes funding for a Civilian Conservation Corps which the administration says will hire 300,000 Americans.
To top up the spending, $ 20 billion would go towards the government’s purchase of next-generation green technologies, essentially helping to create a market for the products and services that the other elements of the proposal will subsidize.
Look on the bright side
Climate activists certainly did not get everything they wanted in the package currently before Congress. Among other things, Biden’s proposed clean power generation program, which reportedly rewarded electric utilities that increase their use of renewables by 4% per year and punished those who did not, has was scuttled after Manchin strongly opposed it.
But on Friday, with the possibility of the $ 555 billion package becoming law, environmental groups focused on the bright side.
“I have lived in Washington for 20 years and have worked on energy and environmental issues for over 20 years,” said Toby Short, associate vice president for federal affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund. “Half a trillion dollars in climate and energy investments? It’s incredible. From EDF’s point of view, we are extremely excited about the transformational investments that can result.