The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Climate 202

Democrats' climate provisions meet the 'Byrd bath,' as Manchin targets the methane fee

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we're wondering if buying a castle in Connecticut would be cheaper than renting an apartment in D.C. 😅 But first:

Democrats' climate provisions may survive the ‘Byrd bath,' but not Manchin

Senate Democrats are projecting confidence that key climate provisions in their nearly $2 trillion social spending bill will pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, even as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) raises repeated objections to a fee on methane emissions.

The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, is reviewing this week whether the climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act fit the rules for reconciliation — a special budget process that allows Democrats to bypass a GOP filibuster.

The “Byrd rule" or "Byrd bath," named after the late Senate majority leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), requires that reconciliation bills have a direct effect on the budget, such as through new taxes or spending. 

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said yesterday that he thinks a $320 billion package of clean energy tax credits — the most significant climate provision in the House-passed version of bill — satisfies that rule.

"This is clearly in the area of tax policy. It is a federal expenditure well over $300 billion," he told reporters. "And this is, of course, the linchpin in terms of the current effort to try to deal with climate change."

Wyden added in no uncertain terms: "I'm confident we'll clear the Byrd bath requirements."

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Manchin chairs, were supposed to meet with MacDonough yesterday. But that meeting got postponed until today, committee spokeswoman Sam Runyon confirmed in an email to The Climate 202. Runyon did not provide a reason for the delay.

The reconciliation bill includes Wyden's "Clean Energy for America Act," which would extend three technology-neutral tax credits aimed at encouraging clean electricity, clean transportation and energy efficiency.

Still, Wyden declined to speculate about the fate of an additional $4,500 tax credit for people who buy electric vehicles made in America by union labor. Manchin has expressed concerns about the bonus EV tax credit, saying it discriminates against foreign automakers whose workers are not unionized.

Sen. Smith is feeling good

Democrats already dropped a central climate provision for the power sector — dubbed the Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP — from the bill because of Manchin's opposition, The Climate 202 previously reported

But Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), the main architect of the CEPP, told The Climate 202 yesterday that she is "confident" the clean energy subsidies will survive scrutiny from both Manchin and MacDonough.

"I think the hardest working parts … are the clean power tax credits, which seem to me clearly fitting under the constraints of reconciliation," Smith said in an interview.

Manchin targets the methane fee

However, Manchin told reporters yesterday that he continues to have concerns about a fee on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can leak from oil and gas wells.

Manchin reiterated that he thinks the methane fee would be duplicative of new methane regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency

"If they’re basically complying with the regulations, then they shouldn’t be subject to the fee," he said of oil and natural gas producers.

Manchin made a similar argument when he objected to the CEPP, as CNN's Ella Nilsen noted:

In the House, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) has emerged as another vocal foe of the methane fee:

Spokespeople for Cuellar and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), whose panel has jurisdiction over the methane fee, did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Clean energy leaders' push

Meanwhile, more than 700 leaders in the clean energy industry wrote to Senate leadership today, urging them to support “smart investments” in clean energy and energy efficiency, according to a letter shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

In particular, the letter calls on Congress to create good-paying manufacturing and construction jobs in the clean energy sector as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs are at stake,” the letter says. “Our nation’s workers, and our climate, cannot afford the cost of inaction.”

The leaders signing the missive included Lynn Abramson, president of the Clean Energy Business Network, and Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

Pressure points

Biden wants the federal government to be carbon neutral by 2050

Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at making the federal government carbon neutral by mid-century. The order will leverage billions of dollars toward the purchase of a federal fleet of electric vehicles, greener buildings and carbon-free electricity. It also instructs the government to “buy clean” by prioritizing products that were produced and transported with low greenhouse gas emissions, The Post's Anna Phillips reports.

The administration laid out a timeline of how it will meet its target:

  • By 2027: The government stops buying gas-powered passenger cars.
  • By 2030: The administration will have leveraged its buying power to cut government carbon emissions by 65 percent. Federal operations at this point run entirely on carbon-free electricity.
  • By 2035: The government’s fleet of roughly 645,000 vehicles goes green, as the government stops buying gas-powered vehicles and switches to zero-emission heavy-duty trucks and cars.
  • By 2045: Most of the buildings owned or leased by the government no longer contribute to carbon pollution.

The plan met with opposition from some Republicans. Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said the executive order would hurt states with large fossil fuel reserves.  

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce responded more cautiously, saying it was still reviewing the plan. And some left-leaning groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sunrise Movement, said the order did not go far enough.

The power grid

Glenn Youngkin wants to pull Virginia out of a greenhouse gas compact

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) told a business group Wednesday that he plans to use executive action to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program for the power sector among states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, The Post’s Laura Vozzella reports

“RGGI describes itself as a regional market for carbon. It is really a carbon tax that is fully passed on to ratepayers,” Youngkin said in a speech to the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a bad deal for Virginians.”

Democrats say that Virginia will lose out on an important source of funding if it leaves the program. The state raised $227 million early this year in its first auction of carbon credits — money that it put toward flood preparedness and energy assistance.

On the Hill

Republicans have railed against the Civilian Climate Corps

There is little love for Biden’s plan to create jobs to fight climate change among GOP ranks, E&E News’s Emma Dumain reports

The House-passed version of the Build Back Better Act includes funding for a new Civilian Climate Corps, a program that could hire hundreds of thousands of young people to take on climate resilience projects, such as restoring forests and wetlands.

The GOP is not impressed: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week said it would give “college students … made-up Potemkin jobs in a make-work program.”

Some Democrats said they were surprised by the opposition, given previous bipartisan support for a bill that would have created a conservation corps as part of a coronavirus relief initiative. 

“Of everything in the Build Back Better Act, of all the climate policy initiatives, this struck me as the one that had the most obvious bipartisan support,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told E&E News.

Climate solutions

New study raises the possibility of ‘hacking’ the ocean to fight climate change

A study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine calls for more research into ocean-based carbon-removal strategies. It reads like a “science fiction novel,” The Post's Sarah Kaplan writes.

“In one scenario, humanity fights climate change by fertilizing the ocean, boosting the growth of tiny photosynthetic creatures that pull carbon out of the atmosphere," Kaplan writes. “In another, scientists change the chemistry of seawater so it can absorb more planet-warming gases. There is even a proposal for sending electrical currents through the waves, breaking apart molecules and enhancing their ability to take up carbon dioxide.”

The idea of hacking the planet to counteract climate change, known as geoengineering, is a controversial one in environmental circles. It's unclear whether these proposals would meaningfully halt global warming, and they could have serious unintended side effects. But the leading science research group points out that climate change has already had devastating effects and makes the case for having the research in place.

Here's how to give sustainable gifts this holiday season

Bows, bags and other holiday materials add about 1 million tons of trash to landfills each week, and that doesn't even count the waste from people receiving gifts they don't want or need. Fortunately, The Post's Tik Root has some suggestions on how you can green your gift-giving this holiday season to help the planet. Root shares a variety of options, including buying second-hand items, doing homemade crafts, helping a friend or loved one with a repair, and investing in digital memberships. 


Thanks for reading!