The New York Times last Friday released a report stating how one member of Congress is pushing back against President Biden’s climate change bill; but how does one senator have that power, what is their motivation and what does it mean for the future of this legislation?
What is Biden’s Climate Change Bill?
The bill in question is known as the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) and is one piece of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that the House of Representatives voted to pass back in September. The program itself, with a budget of $150 billion, would offer more financial rewards for utilities shifting to renewable energy sources and penalize those who do not. Financially rewarding and penalizing companies for their use (or lack thereof) of renewable resources is not in itself a new idea, and in fact, has been one of the methods other countries have used to reduce their emissions. However, there has yet to be a policy enacted by the United States that would reduce emissions to this extent.
Who is blocking the program?
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin III from West Virginia has expressed his opposition to the CEPP claiming that energy companies have already begun their transition to renewable energy sources saying, “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.” Both Manchin and Republican Shelly Moore Capito, the remaining senator from West Virginia, are opposed to this program with Capito citing the potential damage to the coal industry, which is strong within their state. It has also been reported that in Manchin’s public financial disclosure, the senator received the top number of donations from various gas and coal companies in the previous election cycle and many cite that as Manchin’s motivation against the CEPP.
How is Manchin able to block the program alone?
Currently, Senate Democrats are working to pass this legislation through what is called Reconciliation. This allows Congress to bypass the normal 60 Senate votes needed to pass legislation by instead gaining a majority in the Senate, either through 51 votes alone or 50 votes with the Vice President acting as a tie-breaker. Currently, after the results of the 2020 elections, Democrats hold 50 seats in the Senate, therefore in order to ensure the passage of the budget reconciliation bill that contains the CEPP, every Democrat in the Senate would have to approve the bill. Here is where Manchin comes in: he is currently the one Democratic hold out for the bill and is vocal in his opposition to the CEPP. If Manchin were to approve the bill, Vice President Kamala Harris would act as a tie-breaker and the program would then be enforced.
What does that mean going forward?
It is likely that Manchin’s hold-up will lead to the elimination of the CEPP from the budget reconciliation bill. While it may be possible to move the program through as an independent bill, this will likely not be the approach used by congressional Democrats due to the upcoming 2022 midterm elections in the near future that may alter the makeup of the Senate and make the bill even harder to pass.
Furthermore, Biden is preparing to meet with other world leaders in Glasgow for a UN conference on climate change. Given the inability to pass climate legislation within his country, Biden will likely walk into the conference with very little credibility; this comes after the Trump administration sowed distrust about the United States’ ability to combat climate change. Overall, the likelihood of seeing the CEPP becoming law is slim and is becoming slimmer day by day.