The future of Joe Biden's climate protection agenda is uncertain. He actually wants to create comprehensive incentives with his "Build-Back-Better" economic package so that companies and citizens get out of coal and gas. But conservatives in his own continue to stand in his way. And in two weeks, the United Nations Climate Change Conference is coming up in Scotland. The president and John Kerry, his special envoy for climate protection, actually wanted to report initial successes there.
After all, it is also a matter of limiting the political damage caused by predecessor Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate protection agreement. Biden had declared that he wanted to halve U.S. CO2 emissions by 2030, starting from the 2005 level. The fact that the project is faltering also makes it more difficult to advance climate protection measures on the international stage, Kerry said in an interview last week.
Conservative Democrats stand in the way
With the $3.5 trillion "Build-Back-Better" plan, Biden wants to fulfill many of his campaign promises. This is to be achieved with the "budget reconciliation" maneuver. To do this, the Democrats need all 50 of their senators and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. But conservative Democrats led by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia continue to oppose it. Manchin has explicitly opposed the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which is a centerpiece of the package and would cost $150 billion. The plan would reward companies that switch to so-called "clean" energy sources and financially penalize those that don't.
Experts say this could drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production. According to current science, all nations would need to phase out fossil fuels in the coming years to slow global warming. To curb rising sea levels, droughts and increasingly catastrophic storms, global temperature rise would have to be halted at least at the 1.5 degrees Celsius predicted for 2030. The United States has a central role to play in this. It is the second-largest emitter of global CO2 emissions after China, accounting for around 15 percent of the total.
Where Obama had failed
Democrats had so far asserted that there would be no agreement on the spending package without a climate change component. The leftists in the party in particular want to prevent a weakening of the energy policy agenda. This time, they want to achieve what the last Democrat in the White House, Barack Obama, failed to do. He had not pushed national climate protection legislation far enough in his first two years in office, when he had the majority in Congress behind him. Critics, meanwhile, point out that Democrats still include nuclear power when they say "clean energy." The Nuclear Information and Resources Center (NIRS) organization said it found subsidies of around $50 billion for nuclear power operators in Biden's package.
A senator from a conservative coal state.
Joe Manchin, on whom the entire effort may yet fail, chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His state, West Virginia, was the second-largest coal state in the country in 2019 and meets more than 90 percent of its regional energy needs from coal. Manchin's constituents are conservative - 69 percent of West Virginia citizens voted for Donald Trump for president last November.
And the senator has his own financial interests in energy production. In 1988, he founded Enersystems, a coal trading company. When he became first secretary of the interior and later governor of West Virginia, responsibility for the company passed to his son. Manchin holds between one and five million dollars in company shares, according to American media, and earns nearly half a million dollars a year from his involvement.The senator has repeatedly spoken out against tough regulatory action on climate change. Manchin said in interviews that industry is already voluntarily switching to climate-friendly energy sources. It makes no sense, he said, to subsidize companies with billions in taxes for something they are already doing.Because the Democrat has repeatedly reiterated his obstructionist stance in recent days, some party colleagues are already discussing whether the climate protection plan could be separated from the "Build Back Better" package and passed as a separate law at a later date. The window of opportunity for such deliberations is shrinking, with congressional elections already looming at the end of next year. And Manchin is unlikely to change his position in favor of a separate bill.