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Manchin wants 'good things on climate.' What does that mean?

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Sen. Manchin wants 'good things on climate.' What does that mean?

It's another day in Washington, which means it's another day when lawmakers and journalists are deciphering comments from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) about President Biden's stalled Build Back Better bill.

On two separate occasions on Thursday, Manchin signaled openness to the climate provisions in the BBB package, although he reiterated his concerns about adding to the national debt.

Here's a rundown of what the West Virginia senator said yesterday — and what it might mean for efforts to enact the biggest climate investment in the nation's history.

Going through committees

In an appearance on a West Virginia radio talk show, Manchin emphasized he thinks the provisions in BBB should go through typical committee consideration known as regular order, which allows for Republican input.

"They should go through a committee process. These are major changes in our society," Manchin told Hoppy Kercheval, the host of "Talkline."

What it means: These comments bode well for the clean energy tax credits in BBB, which have already gone through regular order, rather than reconciliation, the budget process that Democrats are using for the legislation.

  • The Senate Finance Committee last year advanced the Clean Energy for America Act, which would extend technology-neutral tax incentives for clean electricity and clean vehicles, with a 14-to-14 vote.
  • The legislation was later included in the Senate version of the Build Back Better bill, and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has repeatedly described it as the "linchpin" of the package's climate provisions.

Protecting young people

Manchin also noted on the radio show that he wants to protect younger generations, including his own heirs.

“I got grandchildren. Ten grandchildren," he said. "I got future generations depending on us doing the right thing. I'm willing to do a lot of good things on climate, too. We can all get together.”

What it means: It may seem like Manchin was saying he wants to protect future generations from the effects of climate change. But in reality, he was saying that it's irresponsible to burden future generations with a soaring national debt, Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon told The Climate 202. (One climate activist has dismissed this argument as “deeply offensive.”)

Moving away from coal

Earlier on Thursday, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on hydrogen, Manchin acknowledged that West Virginia will need to move away from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

"The reason I'm so excited [about hydrogen] is my state basically is about 90-93 percent dependent on coal-fired power," he said. "We know the transition is happening and it has to happen. We understand that."

What it means: These comments were a stark acknowledgment that regardless of BBB, coal is waning in America because of market forces incentivizing natural gas, renewables and hydrogen. (It's also worth noting that Manchin has expressed a preference for blue hydrogen, which is made using natural gas, rather than green hydrogen, which is made using renewable energy.)

Build back … never?

Ultimately, Democrats are facing the distinct possibility that they may have to scrap the entire BBB package as written, given Manchin's concerns and many other issues on the agenda, Politico's Burgess Everett reports.

  • The other issues — including Postal Service reform, spending bills and a Supreme Court vacancy — could take up the rest of the winter and some of the spring.
  • Democrats' only real deadline for passing BBB is Sept. 30, when the fiscal 2022 budget resolution underpinning the bill expires.

But climate activists are not ready to give up. They're still calling on Congress to pass any of the provisions in BBB that can get 50 votes in the Senate — even if it means losing some of the climate provisions targeted by Manchin, such as a fee on methane emissions and a tax break for union-made electric vehicles.

"I want the biggest, boldest package possible, but we need to make some tough choices and prioritize and see what can get 50 votes," Jamal Raad, executive director of the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, told The Climate 202 yesterday.

"So if that package looks a little smaller or includes some deficit reduction, so be it," he said. "We need to get something done."

On the Hill

House Republicans raise concerns about White House science official

Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee are raising concerns about the conduct of Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In a letter yesterday, the Republicans alleged that while serving as an editor for the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, Lubchenco accepted an article for publication because it bolstered the credibility of her own subsequent study with the authors. The article was later retracted by the prestigious journal.

The letter was led by Rep. Frank Lucas (Okla.), the ranking member on the committee; Rep. Stephanie Bice (Okla.), the ranking member on the Research and Technology Subcommittee; and Rep. Jay Obernolte (Calif.), the top Republican on the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.

Asked for comment, an OSTP official noted that Lubchenco agreed there was a conflict and the paper should be retracted. The official added that the Scientific Integrity Task Force's report last month found no evidence that Lubchenco gave favorable treatment to the authors because of their close personal or professional relationship.

The letter comes after Eric Lander resigned from his post as OSTP director after apologizing for mistreating and demeaning his subordinates.

Climate in the courts

Gray wolves regain protections in reversal of Trump policy

A federal judge on Thursday restored federal protections to gray wolves in much of the nation, reversing a Trump-era policy that stripped the animals of Endangered Species Act safeguards and exposed them to aggressive hunting, The Washington Post's Joshua Partlow reports

During the Trump administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had taken gray wolves off the list of endangered species and put states in charge of managing wolf populations. But in doing so, the agency failed to rely on the best available science or fully address threats to wolves outside of their core populations, according to the decision by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in Northern California.

The ruling immediately reinstalls the protections in most of the Lower 48 and gives control back to federal officials. However, it excludes the northern Rocky Mountain states such as Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where intense hunting pressure continues to threaten wolf populations. 

While environmentalists hailed the ruling, they warned that hunting remains a serious threat to the nation's wolves. Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the agency is reviewing the decision.

Pressure points

Infrastructure law could increase transportation emissions

The $1 trillion infrastructure law could inadvertently exacerbate climate change by putting more cars on the nation's roads, the New York Times’s Brad Plumer reports.

The legislation gives states $273 billion for highways over five years — money that could be used to widen highways and pave roads. But research shows that these steps tend to encourage people to drive more, increasing emissions from transportation, the country's largest source of greenhouse gases.

Some states, however, are trying to confront the car-dominated status quo. In Colorado, for instance, a rule has been introduced to create bus and bike lanes in place of widened highways. The rule comes as some experts warn that doubling down on electric vehicle sales is not enough to cut vehicle emissions; people also have to drive less. 

Climate change poses challenges for Winter Olympians

A warming planet spells trouble for Winter Olympians who rely on optimal conditions to practice and compete, Bob Henson reports for The Post. As demand for a reliable snowscape at the lucrative global event increases along with human-induced global warming, venue options are constrained and plans to produce artificial snow have become a requirement for host cities. 

But snowmaking has environmental effects of its own, from noise and pollution to the depletion of local water supplies. Plus, some athletes say the manufactured snow is too hard and slippery, therefore changing the dynamic of the Games and making potential falls more dangerous.

Microsoft, ClimateWorks Foundation join forces to track missing emissions

Microsoft and the ClimateWorks Foundation are leading an initiative to develop ways to better track carbon emissions from countries and corporations, Axios's Andrew Freedman reports. The announcement comes after a Washington Post investigation found a giant gap between the emissions that countries report to the United Nations and the emissions they actually send into the atmosphere. 

The Carbon Call initiative, consisting of more than 20 organizations, aims to focus on methane, indirect emissions, carbon removal and the land-use sector.

Extreme events

Brush fire rages in Southern California while heat and drought escalate

A brush fire blazed through California on Thursday amid excessive heat warnings and a worsening drought, The Post’s Matthew Cappucci, Timothy Bella and Jacob Feuerstein report. The Emerald Fire was fueled by winds and high temperatures and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes around Laguna Beach. 

It is atypical for the state to experience such dryness midwinter, as January and February are normally its rainiest months. But as temperatures rise and droughts worsen, Californians could face larger, more severe blazes year-round. 

About 12 million acres have been scorched in California in the past decade, highlighting climate change’s intensifying effects on wildfires and extreme fire behavior in the state.

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