Biden climate plan threatened, Democrats rush to strike deal

WASHINGTON – With a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s climate change strategy nearly wiped out, Democratic lawmakers took to the White House on Tuesday looking for new ways to scale back, reshape and quickly conclude negotiations on it. which had been his sweeping $ 3.5 trillion budget plan.

Nearly 20 centrist and progressive lawmakers gathered in separate groups with Biden as Democrats examined a “menu” of alternative emission reduction strategies – one of the most crucial issues for voters who support the president and his party – and were running to reach agreement on its overall package.

Among the climate change proposals being considered are a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal, a charge on methane emissions, and tax breaks for energy providers that meet certain emissions targets.

Democrats must find tactics that can be accepted by both centrists and moderates, whose votes are all needed in the equally divided Senate. Senators want to achieve a framework this week ahead of the month-end deadlines.

“Our goal is to keep making progress,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said simply of the rapid events of the day.

Biden’s primary climate plan seems almost dead. One key element, Conservative Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia Coal State, has made it clear that he opposes the president’s proposal that the government provide financial rewards to electric utilities that meet clean energy standards and impose penalties on utilities that fail to do so. , in line with the president’s goal of achieving 80% “clean electricity” by 2030.

Alternative strategies compiled and evaluated could align with Manchin’s stated goal of maintaining a “fuel neutral” approach to federal policy that does not favor renewable energy sources over dominant coal and natural gas. in his state – although the senator told reporters a tax was not in the mix at all.

“Everyone is talking,” Manchin said.

Biden wants to show progress on all of his expanded social service package as well as efforts to tackle climate change, now reduced to around $ 2 trillion, by the time he leaves for a world climate summit next week. And he is not alone.

“There was a universal – universal – agreement in this room that we have to come to an agreement and we have to do it,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after a long lunch on Capitol Hill that senators had. qualified as “alive”. and “animated”.

Schumer said he, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talk to each other on a daily basis.

“What I said to our caucus is that everyone is going to be disappointed with some things, but everyone is going to be happy with some things,” Schumer said. “And overall, to do something of this magnitude for the American people is a huge, huge, huge accomplishment.”

The fight against climate change has been a cornerstone of the President’s ‘Build Back Better’ proposal, his sweeping plan to boost federal government spending on health care, child care and other services. social issues while tackling the climate crisis which Democratic voters say is one of their most important. problems.

Failure to act on climate change would have far-reaching consequences in the United States and abroad. Supporters warn that inaction could cost the United States billions of dollars in weather disasters and threaten to uproot millions of Americans in hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods. Twice as many people have died in the United States from natural disasters in the first nine months of this year than in 2020, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Without Manchin’s backing, however, the Clean Energy Performance Plan – also known as the Clean Energy Payment Plan – will almost certainly be knocked out of the package, according to lawmakers and their collaborators.

“I have been told that it would be prudent to plan for alternatives,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I.

Instead, lawmakers are considering a tax package from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Chairman of the finance committee, who argued that the bulk of greenhouse gas emission reductions would come from an overhaul of the energy tax he manages.

Among the tax changes his committee is considering include tax credits for energy producers that reduce emissions and pollution charges to be paid by industries for every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit.

Psaki said the administration has “multiple avenues” to meet Biden’s pledge to halve carbon emissions by 2030.

“In our opinion, no policy makes or breaks our chances,” she said.

It is the daily backdrop as the President works to position the United States to regain a leadership position in climate change strategies, preparing to leave for the United Nations Summit. on the climate at the end of the month. Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry has warned of failure in Congress.

Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif., One of the leading progressive leaders in White House meetings, said he plans to push for climate strategies.

Khanna recognized the headwinds for the clean electricity proposal. “If this is unacceptable, then determine which alternative will bring us to the goal,” he said Monday evening on a call with supporters of Our Revolution, a group aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont.

For months, Manchin has publicly and repeatedly rejected the size and scale of Biden’s plan, and the state coal senator has particularly opposed green energy strategies.

He and other centrist lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have forced Biden to admit the end price will likely be much smaller, likely around $ 2 trillion – largely paid for in taxes. higher on corporations and the wealthy, those who earn more than $ 400,000 a year.

Sinema missed Tuesday’s Senate lunch. But Biden met with Manchin and Sinema in the White House on Tuesday, Psaki said.

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin tests the patience of his colleagues who see a unique opportunity to reshape government programs away from his personal preferences. Sinema has seemed more open to climate change arrangements, but his views are closely related. With Republicans totally opposed to Biden’s plans, the president needs all Democrats in the 50-50 split Senate to pass.

As part of Biden’s initial climate proposal, the federal government would offer subsidies to power companies that increase clean energy production by 4% each year and impose fines on those that do not.

A carbon tax is seen by economists as the most effective way to reduce fossil fuel emissions, and the American Petroleum Institute, the main lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry, has endorsed the idea of ​​a price on carbon emissions.

With the weather slipping, Congress has set a deadline of Oct. 31 for the passage of Biden’s big package – although even that may slip.

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Associated Press editors Alex Jaffe and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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