The looming, intensifying threats of the climate crisis wait for no one, not even Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Without action by the federal government that presses utilities to transition to clean energy sources, the mushrooming effects of climate disasters will impact all Americans, with a disproportionate burden placed on the poorest and most marginalized. Those include residents of Manchin’s home state.
Yet, the West Virginia Democrat, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural resources, is in the familiar position as the holdout — and potential foil — of the White House and the Democratic congressional caucus’s bid to include crucial climate provisions in the massive reconciliation bill being hashed out on Capitol Hill.
If those measures fail, experts say, it would drastically undercut the United States’ ability to cut greenhouse gases, invest in clean power, and meet its obligations under the Paris accord — not to mention help blunt the effects of climate catastrophe. Lawmakers, voters, and policy advocates must stand up to Manchin’s obstructionism.
It won’t be easy. Not only does Manchin represent the 50th vote in an evenly-divided Senate that requires the vote of every Democrat, plus a Vice President Kamala Harris tiebreaker, to pass anything. Add the fact that Manchin, who owns stock in coal companies and takes large campaign donations from fossil fuel companies, holds the gavel of the key climate committee: He sits in the position to essentially rewrite the Democrats’ plan until it suits him.
But climate policy experts say there is little room to compromise, particularly on the two core components of the bill: a 10-year extension of comprehensive tax incentives that spur energy developers and invest in solar, wind, and other cleaner power sources; and the Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP), which would provide grants to electricity suppliers who meet clean energy benchmarks and penalize those who don’t.
According to an analysis by the independent research firm Rhodium Group, the long-term tax credit plan isn’t a ceiling-high item on a climate wish list. It’s the floor — a core tenet foundational to any effective climate plan.
“That 10 years changes both project developer and investor behavior,” said Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress.
Goldfuss, who was managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration, said an impediment to reducing emissions has been the short-term and uncertain nature of tax incentives, forcing the clean energy industry to fight to one- and two-year extensions that don’t lead to the permanent changes needed.
“That 10-year duration is what gets you the prize; it’s what gets you the emission reductions,” Goldfuss said in an interview. “If you cut that in half, that doesn’t change behavior in the same way.”
While Manchin hasn’t voiced direct opposition to a tax incentive plan, he has balked at the overall cost of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, hinting that he’d like to see it cut down by more than half. But the tax provision isn’t something fiscal hawks can clip at the margins, let alone take a hatchet to, without fatally weakening it. Reducing the amount to tax credits or shortening the commitment term would deter long-term investments in solar, wind, and nuclear power.
Manchin is more vocally opposed to the CEPP.
“The transition is happening,” Manchin said in a CNN interview about utilities’ gradual move toward cleaner energy. “Now they’re wanting to pay companies to do what they’re already doing. It makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions. It makes no sense at all.”
But it makes a lot of sense when it can help get the nation below 80 percent of 2005-level emissions by 2030, and help fill the gaps of the tax incentive program to ensure that the United States meets its goals under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. That is also the path to the US regaining credibility to influence other nations to cut their climate-warming emissions.
As climate disasters take an ever-growing toll on Americans’ lives and livelihoods, Congress can’t afford to let one man stand in the way of urgent action. Voters, political leaders, and advocates alike need to raise the political price for Manchin’s obstruction.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.