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Manchin deals a stunning blow to Democrats' efforts to fight climate change

The Climate 202


Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! How are you celebrating the end of a long week for climate news? We're planning to eat pasta alone in silence. 🙃 But first:

Manchin won't support reconciliation bill with new climate spending

It looks like climate provisions are getting stripped from Democrats' economic package.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told Democratic leaders yesterday that he wouldn't support a budget reconciliation package that includes new spending on climate change or new tax increases targeting wealthy Americans or corporations, The Washington Post's Tony Romm and Jeff Stein scooped last night.

The stunning shift marks a major setback for party leaders, who had hoped to advance a central element of their agenda before the midterm elections. Climate activists also argue it's a major setback for the planet, whose catastrophic warming would have been slowed by the significant new spending on climate and clean energy.

The development — confirmed by two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the talks — threatens to blow up the delicate negotiations over the reconciliation package seven months after Manchin scuttled the original, roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act.

The setback comes despite weeks of seemingly promising negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Manchin in pursuit of a broader deal that would have made a significant investment in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, incentivizing clean energy and putting more electric vehicles on the road.

“Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation soars to 9.1 percent,” Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in a statement. "Senator Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, reevaluate and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire.”

A spokesman for Schumer declined to comment. 

‘A gut punch’

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told The Climate 202 that he was angry but not surprised by Manchin's decision to walk away from the climate spending, given his income from his family's coal business. (The income complies with Senate ethics rules.)

“It is a gut punch but not a surprise. Anyone who understands who Mr. Manchin is, where he gets his wealth, what he actually cares about, can't really be surprised,” Huffman said in an interview.

“It's nevertheless a huge blow to climate activists, to the majority of Americans who are demanding bold action on the most important existential issue of our time,” he added. "And I hope they understand that this is one man. This is not the Democratic Party. This is one very corrupted, compromised man who was probably never going to be part of the solution, despite this tease that we've all been exposed to, on and off, for the better part of a year."

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), whose panel has jurisdiction over the clean energy tax credits in the package, lamented that “nearly all the issues in the climate and energy space had been resolved” after months of deliberations.

“This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic — and costly — effects of climate change," Wyden said in a statement. "We can’t come back in another decade and forestall hundreds of billions — if not trillions — in economic damage and undo the inevitable human toll.”

Without the reconciliation bill, America is on track to miss President Biden's target of cutting the nation's emissions 50 to 52 percent by 2030, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm.

“That package was a really important component of meeting the goal,” Ben King, an associate director at Rhodium and co-author of the analysis, told The Climate 202.

Other routes

Jamal Raad, who leads the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, told The Climate 202 that the White House no longer has an excuse to consider approving new fossil fuel projects to help secure Manchin's elusive vote.

He called on Biden to block fossil fuel infrastructure that would lock in emissions for decades to come, including ConocoPhillips's Willow project on Alaska's North Slope and new offshore oil and gas leasing in federal waters.

“The White House needs to end the Willow project and all new leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska,” Raad said. “They need to send a message that if [Manchin] isn't going to play ball to invest in clean energy, what the White House is doing on fossil fuels is done.”

Huffman said the development underscores the need to bolster Democrats' razor-thin majority in the Senate, where the party needs all 50 votes in the caucus, plus Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote, to use the special process known as budget reconciliation to overcome Republicans’ expected filibuster.

“Let's stop empowering this puppet of the coal industry to be his own branch of government," he said, "and let's get on with it."

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who co-sponsored a major cap-and-trade bill that died in the Senate in 2010:

Pressure points

Biden to visit Saudi Arabia, which has a long history of climate ‘obstructionism’

President Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday has sparked a flurry of criticism from human rights activists over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But in addition to its human rights abuses, the oil-rich kingdom has a record of trying to weaken language in landmark climate agreements and scientific reports, according to experts who track international climate diplomacy.

“They have a long history of climate obstructionism,” Alden Meyer, a senior associate at the energy think tank E3G, told The Climate 202.

“They've tried to water down or weaken various provisions over time,” said Meyer, who has attended nearly every United Nations climate conference since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

  • At talks in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, Saudi Arabia worked with Kuwait, Russia and the Trump administration to sideline the findings of a U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • A leak of documents obtained by Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace, shows that Saudi Arabian and Australian officials pushed to delete references to phasing out fossil fuels from the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report.
  • At the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last year, climate activists accused the Saudi negotiators of trying to soften language about the need to phase out oil, gas and coal.

“I think for many years, the Gulf states didn't really know how to engage in international climate negotiations. Rightly or wrongly, people saw them as spoilers,” Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Climate 202.

Efforts to reach Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Energy — which says it “discovers and exploits the Kingdom's resources, from oil, gas, and minerals, to achieve the highest return" — were unsuccessful.

But Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud previously denied accusations that the nation had tried to hamper the COP26 talks, dismissing them as “lies and fabrications.”

On the Hill

House passes National Defense Authorization Act with controversial offshore wind provision

The House on Thursday passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2023 by a vote of 329 to 101, despite some Democrats expressing concern that a provision in the $840 billion bill would stifle the party’s clean-energy goals as it moves to the Senate, Kelsey Carolan and Elizabeth Crisp report for the Hill. 

The controversial amendment would ban offshore wind developers from using construction boats with multinational crews, requiring instead that they be staffed by U.S. citizens or people from the boat’s origin country. 

Opponents argue that the amendment would derail the nation's renewable-energy goals because the United States does not have enough of its own specialized workforce.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (Mass.), the only Democratic veteran to vote against the national defense bill, said in a statement that he “cannot vote for a bill that would unnecessarily inflate the Pentagon’s budget at the cost of clean energy jobs in my district.”

Auchincloss also led a letter on Thursday to Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and ranking Republican Roger Wicker (Miss.), asking them to remove the amendment from the Senate companion bill. The letter was signed by 30 other House Democrats.

Democratic voters want more from Biden on climate

More than 80 percent of Democrats think President Biden could be doing much more to combat climate change, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of more than 10,000 adults released Thursday, Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman report for the Guardian. 

The nationwide survey also found that younger voters in both parties are most frustrated with the pace of political action on environmental issues. The survey was conducted during the first week of May — before the Supreme Court's decision limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to tackle climate pollution from power plants.

Extreme events

Last month was among the warmest Junes on record, reports say

The Earth saw one of its warmest Junes ever recorded last month, according to data released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post.  

According to NASA’s data set, which includes measurements dating back to 1880, this June was more than about 2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than an average June in the late 1800s, tying with temperatures from June 2020 as the highest ever. 

NASA's assessment differs slightly from a report released Thursday by NOAA, which concluded that last month was Earth’s sixth-warmest June on record since 1880. The discrepancy is likely because of differences in the agencies' treatment of polar regions, experts said, with NASA’s including more data points from the rapidly warming Arctic and Antarctic. 

Regardless, scientists said the story told by both datasets is the same: Human-induced climate change is worsening extreme heat events.

“The key metrics for global warming are the long-term trends, and this month’s anomalies are in line with that increasing trend,” said Gavin Schmidt, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which produces the data set in question.

In the atmosphere


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