November 16, 2021 COP’s Over, but Biden’s Climate Bill Still Hangs in the Balance

Welcome back to Today’s Climate, a newsletter that examines the most pressing news about our rapidly warming world every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. U.S. climate campaigners who were disappointed with the outcome of COP26, which wrapped up last weekend in Glasgow, could feel a double sting as Democrats back home continue to struggle with their massive climate agenda.

This week, House Democrats are hoping to pass their now $1.7 trillion reconciliation package, which currently includes some $555 billion for climate and clean energy programs. But Sen. Joe Manchin continues to be the metaphorical thorn in his own party’s side, standing as a key holdout to the measure in the Senate, where Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote.

The West Virginia Democrat has made much of his fortune on fossil fuels and says he won’t support anything that would penalize the oil and natural gas industries. It’s one reason climate-conscious lawmakers and activists fear that Manchin could still derail President Biden’s efforts to lead the global pledge to slash emissions of methane, a climate super-pollutant and the main ingredient in natural gas. 

But it’s not just penalties. Manchin is also opposing clean energy incentives, such as the $12,500 electric vehicle tax credit, arguing that governments shouldn’t decide the fate of private industries in a free market. “We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” he said in a recent interview with Automotive News, echoing a common refrain among Republicans.

People wouldn’t be buying electric cars, the argument goes, if the government wasn’t going out of its way to make them cheaper for the public. But that’s not necessarily true. Electric vehicle sales are already booming in the U.S., with purchases nearly doubling over a year ago. And one recent poll found that the majority of American car owners are “likely” to buy electric or hybrid as their next vehicle.

Others have pointed out that the U.S. government, to some degree, has always picked winners and losers—especially when it comes to industries that lawmakers view as critical to national security, such as energy and transportation. 

One of the first instances can be traced all the way back to 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, facilitating completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in just seven years and setting the stage for decades of commercial and industrial expansion, wrote one University of Maryland professor. And fossil fuel companies have enjoyed a steady flow of government subsidies for decades. One recent analysis found that the fossil fuel industry receives trillions of dollars every year from governments around the world, including the U.S.

In fact, former President Donald Trump was criticized for picking winners and losers when it came to industries like coal, which his administration went out of its way to prop up even as the market signaled its demise.

So how likely is it that Manchin will come around to support Biden’s climate agenda? It’s unclear. But he clearly wants to maintain the support of his constituents, and if a recent poll of West Virginia voters holds true, the chances look bad for passing national climate policy. West Virginians give Manchin an overall job approval rating of 60 percent compared to Biden’s 32 percent.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again Friday.

Today’s Indicator

$11 million

That’s how much money the fossil fuel industry receives every single minute in subsidies from governments around the world, according to a recent analysis from the International Monetary Fund.