Days before U.S. President Joe Biden is due to attend the high-stakes United Nations climate change conference, COP 26, in Glasgow, the White House released a US$1.75-trillion Build Back Better Framework Thursday that falls far short of what progressive legislators wanted, but could win the support of two renegade Democratic senators who’ve been holding up the plan for weeks.
While climate initiatives take up nearly one-third of the package, at $555 billion, the Biden administration stripped out a Clean Energy Performance Plan (CEPP) that had been seen as a cornerstone of the effort to decarbonize the U.S. grid by 2035.
The changes had the White House scrambling for other measures to drive the rapid decarbonization the country needs.
But in the arcane world of U.S. Congressional horse-trading [really, you’d think they were trying to outdo the UN climate conferences!—Ed.], even a watered-down plan was not a foregone conclusion.
“Biden’s framework, which provides proposals for scaling back climate change and social spending proposals in the original $3.5 trillion-plus House reconciliation package, will need the support of virtually every Democrat to pass the House and Senate,” Roll Call reports. “It’s based on the president’s weeks-long negotiations with key Democratic lawmakers, including centrist Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona,” which led to dramatic cuts in the original plan.
According to a White House fact sheet, the climate and energy provisions in the framework now include:
• $320 billion over 10 years for renewable energy tax credits;
• $105 billion for resilience investments “to address extreme weather (wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes, including in forestry, wetlands, and agriculture), legacy pollution in communities, and a Civilian Climate Corps”;
• $110 billion in “targeted incentives to spur new domestic supply chains and technologies” in solar, batteries, and advanced materials, while boosting competitiveness in industries like steel, cement, and aluminium;
• $20 billion in procurement dollars for the government to buy “next gen technologies, including long-duration storage, small modular reactors, and clean construction materials.”
“We are confident that this will earn the support of every Democratic senator and that it will pass the House,” senior administration officials said.
By Thursday night, U.S. media were already questioning whether the White House could round up all 50 of the Senate votes it will need to get the measure adopted, with prescription drug costs and paid family leave emerging as two of the remaining sticking points. Members of the Democrats’ progressive caucus in the House of Representatives were insisting they wouldn’t support a separate, $1-trillion infrastructure bill unless an acceptable Build Back Better measure is adopted, The Guardian writes.
But the announcement still drew applause from at least two of the U.S. groups that have been advocating for a strong U.S. climate and infrastructure plan.
“This framework is a big deal for workers and the climate,” said Blue Green Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “By making smart investments to deploy clean energy and clean vehicles, build up our domestic supply chains, and support growth in manufacturing the technologies that will drive the clean economy, we can build good-paying, union jobs for workers across the nation while doing our part in the fight against climate change.”
“This framework outlines the single largest investment in clean energy in the history of our country, significantly improving the way America powers its homes, cars, and businesses,” said Advanced Energy Economy Federal Policy Director Leah Rubin Shen. “It will make it easier for families to put solar on their roofs and electric vehicles in their garages so they can save money, and it will make the energy coming into our homes more efficiently sourced and less reliant on fluctuating gas prices in the coming years.”
What’s “smart about this proposal,” Rubin Shen added, “is that it supercharges existing and well-understood programs, like tax credits, which means money can begin flowing to clean energy companies and U.S. job creators more quickly.”
Roll Call has details on the politics of the announcement and, inevitably, the next round of horse-trading to follow.
Thursday’s news capped a bruising intra-party debate over Biden’s jobs plan and social spending measures, in which Americans saw Democrats scrambling to meet the often-opaque demands of Manchin and Sinema—two senators alternately described as “moderate” and “centrist” or just plain obstinate—who held the fate of the whole effort in their hands. At present, seats in the U.S. Senate are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, so the White House needs every single vote to get any major spending bill passed.
Along the way, Manchin saw himself tagged as the Congress’ biggest recipient of campaign donations from oil and gas, coal, gas pipeline, and electric utility companies, at a time when self-styled “climate-positive” companies were working hard at “tanking America’s best shot at fighting climate change”.
And while Manchin comes from a coal-dependent state where he has enjoyed strong support for his pro-fossil positions (though less so, apparently, at present), recent reports from Arizona have had Sinema’s popular support down 21%. The former social worker and lawyer has also faced scorching criticism from one of the constituencies that helped propel her from a role in the U.S. Green Party to the position of senior U.S. Senator from Arizona.
“Representation isn’t colourful wigs and great eyeliner,” a group of Sunrise Movement members asserted earlier this month, with the launch of a short-lived phone bank campaign against the country’s first openly bisexual senator. “Queers want it all: good jobs, investments in infrastructure, citizenship for all, and a chance to SURVIVE,” the phone bank promo stated.
Ironically enough, with their determined efforts to rein in the scope of Biden’s effort—Manchin by opposing a methane fee, Sinema by cutting $1 billion from the climate components of the plan—their own constituents’ survival was precisely what the two senators were putting in play. With 18 billion-dollar weather disasters already on the books in the U.S. this year, new analysis identified West Virginia as the U.S. state most vulnerable to floods, while the western U.S. is facing its driest year in a century.