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Biden’s Climate Ambitions Die in the Senate

President Joe Biden was elected on a progressive climate platform that promised a net-zero power sector by 2035. That means that in just 14 years, America’s economy would be transformed through the rapid adoption of electric stoves, heaters, cars, etc.

In recent months, Democrats have tried to pass a multi-trillion-dollar spending bill. The all-encompassing Build Back Better bill not only reinvigorates the American social safety net, but also contains the most ambitious climate legislation in decades.

The Clean Energy Performance Plan—a $150bn program to reward energy producers that switched to renewables and fined those who did not—was the single most effective ingredient in Biden’s strategy to meet the country’s climate goals. “If that [had come] to pass, it would [have] easily [been] the biggest thing Congress has ever done on climate,” said John Larsen, a director at the Rhodium Group, an energy research and consulting firm.

The CEPP would provide grants or penalties to utilities—the cornerstone of our economy—to reduce its emissions by 4% each year. Analysts projected that this carrot and stick policy framework would result in an 80 percent emissions reduction within the power sector over the next ten years. Shutting down coal and gas-fired power plants and cleaning up the power grid—which is, behind transportation, the second most carbon-intensive sector of the economy—would have put us on a timely trajectory to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The plan would have also created millions of new jobs creating new wind farms, solar farms, nuclear plants and transmission lines. While there would certainly be job losses in the fossil fuel industry, it is important to note that the electricity sector is our best target, as it is the cheapest and fastest sector to significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

Without any Republican support in the Senate, the Democrats tried to pass this bill through “Reconciliation,” a process that can only be used once per fiscal year. Senator Joe Manchin, the centrist Democrat from West Virginia, recently voted against the CEPP, rendering Biden’s climate ambitions dead.

Manchin voted against the bill, as removing coal and gas from the American energy mix would have deleterious effects on the West Virginian economy. According to Business Insider, Manchin earned $500,000 in 2020 from his son's energy firm, and has received thousands of dollars from Exxon lobbyists and oil titans.

The broader spending package still includes around $300 billion in tax credits for wind and solar energy, but the magnitude of this policy removal cannot be understated. By relinquishing an opportunity for federal action, Washington has relegated future generations to the harshest impacts of climate change. By Carly Kessler

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