WASHINGTON – Climate has become the most important category of President Biden’s new cadre for a huge spending bill, putting global warming at the center of his party’s national agenda in a way that was hard to imagine ago just a few years.
As the bill rose from $ 3.5 trillion to $ 1.85 trillion, paid family time off, free community colleges, lower prescription drugs for seniors, and other Democratic priorities have been abandoned – victims of negotiations between progressives and moderates of the party. But $ 555 billion in climate programs remained.
It was not clear on Thursday whether all Democrats would support the package, which will be necessary if it is to pass without the support of Republicans in a heavily divided Congress. Progressive Democrats in the House and two key moderates in the Senate, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have not explicitly endorsed the president’s cadre. But Mr Biden said he was confident a deal was in sight.
If passed, it would be the biggest step the United States has ever taken to tackle climate change. And that would enshrine climate action in law, making it harder to overturn by a future president.
In remarks Thursday, Biden called it “the most important investment to address the climate crisis that has ever occurred, beyond any other advanced country in the world.”
The centerpiece of climate spending is $ 300 billion in tax incentives for producers and buyers of wind, solar and nuclear energy, incentives intended to accelerate the transition to oil, gas and coal. Buyers of electric vehicles would benefit as well, receiving up to $ 12,500 in tax credits, depending on the part of the vehicle made in America.
The remainder would be split between a mix of programs, including money to build electric vehicle charging stations and update the power grid to make it more conducive to the transmission of wind and solar power, and to money to promote climate-friendly agriculture and forestry programs.
The plan would still fall short of the ambitious commitment Mr. Biden made to halve the country’s greenhouse gases, from 2005 levels, by the end of this decade. Scientists say nations must quickly and deeply reduce emissions from the combustion of oil, gas and coal to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.
While many social spending programs were scrapped, climate primacy remained during weeks of tense negotiations between the White House and progressive, centrist lawmakers.
Mr Manchin, who played an inordinate role in shaping the debate, managed to kill off the most powerful mechanism in Mr Biden’s climate plan – a scheme that would have rewarded power companies for switching from fossil fuels to clean energy, and penalized those who did not. Mr. Manchin’s State is a major producer of coal and gas, and he has personal financial ties to the coal industry.
But during the negotiations, Democratic lawmakers of different political stripes have all made climate policy a priority.
Activists on the rise and a sustained push
Many Democrats have said they are newly motivated to tackle climate change after cascading climate disasters over the past year. Record-breaking droughts, floods, wildfires and heat waves – which scientists say are made worse by climate change – have devastated almost every corner of the country.
The Liberals and many moderates in Congress, including vulnerable members of the House in the swing districts, have pushed the administration to focus on the issue. A group of moderate House Democrats even suggested Democrats don’t worry about offsetting climate spending with tax increases.
There was also a sustained will within the administration to raise the issue. Mr Biden has repeatedly linked reducing emissions to creating jobs, echoing the views of many of his top economic advisers, such as Brian Deese, who heads the National Economic Council. Mr Deese said he sees the plight of America’s middle class over the next several decades linked to the country’s ability to dominate the industries that fuel emission reductions.
At the same time, a new generation of climate activists have advised the president on his platform and warned lawmakers that they risk losing young voters if they do not act.
Mr Biden appeared to nod at the generational aspect of the crisis on Thursday, when he referred to his meeting with an electrician in Pittsburgh fearing that climate change could threaten his children’s future. “Guys, we all have this obligation, an obligation to our children and grandchildren,” Mr. Biden said.
In Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on committees to draft climate change legislation that would meet Mr Biden’s goals of reducing emissions.
And Mr Biden is under increasing pressure to demonstrate that the United States, as the country that has fueled climate change by emitting the most greenhouse gases, is taking action when he appears at a crucial summit on Monday. United Nations on the climate. Running empty-handed would damage America’s credibility on the world stage.
As advocates for family leave, prescription drug cuts and other policies lobbied for their causes, environmentalists have felt an intense urgency, given warnings from the scientific community that the world has failed. that until the end of this decade to make significant reductions in carbon dioxide, methane and other emissions or face a difficult future.
Kidus Girma, 26, from Dallas, is one of many activists who have staged a hunger strike outside the White House and the Capitol over the past nine days to push for climate legislation.
“If you look at the story of how politicians do the right thing on issues like civil rights and climate change, it’s not that politicians stepped in because they wanted to,” he said. Mr Girma said. “But because people forced them to.”
Changing climate policy
Pressure for climate action, even by moderates in Congress, would have been unthinkable a decade ago, when former President Barack Obama unsuccessfully attempted to pass climate legislation. This measure withered in the Senate after Democrats failed to muster enough votes from their own party to put the bill to a vote.
“It’s so, so different now,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, who was in the Senate when Mr. Obama’s climate bill died.
Ms Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said under the Obama administration she was unable to gain political support from farmers for a climate bill.
“It has completely changed today,” she said. “Today we have all the major agricultural groups, agribusinesses and researchers supporting a climate law. What I am hearing now from farmers is that yes you are absolutely right the climate crisis is real. But we need help figuring out what to do about it.
Like many in her party, Ms Stabenow attributes the new urgency in climate policy to rising extreme and deadly weather conditions.
The past two years have only highlighted this case: There have been 22 climate disasters that cost the United States at least $ 1 billion each in 2020, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This record is set to be broken again this year. This summer, the hottest on record in the country, record-breaking wildfires devastated vast swathes of California and a deadly heat wave ravaged the Pacific Northwest. Flash floods once every 200 years have killed dozens of people in New York and New Jersey.
The disasters have sparked a new awareness of global warming among many Americans. And during the 2020 presidential campaign, environmental activists sought to capitalize on these growing concerns.
In particular, the Sunrise movement, an activist group, convinced nearly every candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary to support the Green New Deal, a plan that would have eliminated the country’s greenhouse gas emissions from here. the end of the decade. While Mr. Biden did not embrace the entire program, he did approve of parts of it.
After Mr Biden landed his party’s nomination, Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise movement, joined the team that crafted his climate policy.
“We have built a political movement and changed the political weather to make the climate the pole star of the Democratic Party,” said Lauren Maunus, advocacy director for Sunrise.
An early outbreak
As soon as Capitol Hill Democrats secured a razor-thin majority in early 2020, their leaders began laying the groundwork for a climate plan.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York had never been a particular champion of climate action.
But that changed when he became the Democratic Leader of the Senate.
“I will fight for a big and bold climate package,” Mr Schumer said in an interview at the end of 2020. “And as a leader, I will focus on putting together a climate package that responds to the ‘scale and scope of the problem. “
Mr Schumer tasked Democrats on Senate committees responsible for tax policy to develop climate-related tax legislation that could be bundled into a larger budget bill.
Mr. Schumer’s staff developed a computer modeling tool to assess the emissions impact of each piece of potential climate legislation. As climate policies were developed, Mr. Schumer’s staff walked them through the program to determine how many tonnes of greenhouse gases they would remove. cuts.
Mr Schumer tasked Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate finance committee, to prepare a package of roughly $ 300 billion in clean energy tax credits that would significantly reduce emissions.
Mr Schumer and other Democrats tried to win Mr Manchin’s support on another critical climate policy: a $ 150 billion program that would have paid electric utilities to quickly shut down coal-fired power plants and gas and replace them with wind and solar generators.
But just two weeks away from the United Nations climate summit in Scotland, Mr Manchin told the White House he was opposed to the clean electricity program. At the same time, he demanded that the overall bill be reduced from $ 3.5 trillion to about $ 1.5 trillion.
As White House and Congressional staff members sought to reduce the package, activists and members of Congress, including Ms Pelosi, insisted that the climate provisions be protected.
Jim Tankersley contributed reports.