Democrats Fail on Climate Policy, Again
Hopes were high for President Biden’s climate agenda well into October, but as negotiations over the reconciliation infrastructure bill subside and the legislation approaches a vote, there is little expectation that the bill will include a clean energy standard or a comparable mechanism to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels.
President Biden’s team has spent the past months promoting their Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), which provides financial incentives to power utilities to switch to renewable (or less carbon intensive) sources of energy, and penalizing them if they don’t meet certain requirements. Though the CEPP includes these budget mechanisms in order to pass under reconciliation, it would work similarly to a typical clean energy standard, which mandates the percentage of a utility’s energy that must come from renewable sources. This policy was one of the administration’s main efforts to achieve a fully clean electricity grid by 2035.
While Democrats have long identified Senator Joe Manchin’s approval for CEPP as tenuous at best, there was significant hope that his vote could be secured by designating natural gas as a source of clean energy within the program. This belief turned out to be unfounded, as the West Virginia Democrat recently announced his opposition to the program, claiming that it would be “using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing.” According to the think tank Energy Innovation, CEPP would cut US emissions levels from 2005 to 2030 by 45 percent, and with its exclusion, the US would lose a third of the modeled reduction results of Biden’s legislation.
Since the reconciliation bill requires the votes of all fifty Senate Democrats, CEPP will be excluded from the final legislation. Similar to the failure of the 2009 Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, Democrats are unable to pass significant climate legislation.
That isn’t to say that the reconciliation won’t include any climate measures. Tax credits to the tune of $235 billion for producers of renewable energy, including wind, solar, green hydrogen and nuclear, are still included in the legislation, and have proven in the past to be effective at encouraging the growth of clean energy. While some progressives have criticized the inclusion of credits for hydrogen and nuclear energy, these policies as a whole face little opposition from Democratic politicians. The legislation also includes around $40 billion to construct electric vehicle charging stations around the country, update the electrical grid, and reduce emissions from federal buildings. Though these measures are helpful and necessary, the defeat of Biden’s most impactful policy has left environmentalists feeling as though they lost yet another chance to meaningfully reduce fossil fuel emissions.
As President Biden prepares for COP 26 in Glasgow relatively empty-handed, the international community will be sure to press him on the other ways that the United States plans to reduce emissions. For the sake of a livable climate, let's hope he has something convincing to say.