U.S. Senator Joe Manchin makes surprise U-turn on climate bill

Heralded as the the greatest pro-climate legislation ever passed by Congress, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 received surprising support

Joe Manchin climate bill
Photo courtesy of Third Way Think Tank/Flickr

Just as climate advocates had given up hope that Congress would pass any climate legislation this year, Joe Manchin changed his mind. 

The West Virginia senator (and coal baron) announced Wednesday afternoon that he had agreed to support a bill – called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 – that will see $369 billion go toward climate solutions, such as subsidies for electric vehicles and tax credits for home energy retrofits. Less than two weeks ago, Manchin had said he wouldn’t support such a bill until he saw July’s inflation numbers, which still haven’t been released. 

“By a wide margin, this legislation will be the greatest pro-climate legislation that has ever been passed by Congress,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement 

The bill is not as ambitious as President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which would have spent around $500 billion on climate action. That legislation did not move forward, as Manchin refused to back it in the evenly divided 50–50 U.S. Senate. But the new bill’s authors say it could put the U.S. “on a path” to cut greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.  

Manchin released a lengthy statement on the bill Wednesday that mainly addressed inflation and national debt, as the legislation will also raise $739 billion in revenue and spend $300 billion on deficit reduction. The 725-page bill will additionally spend $64 billion extending subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. 

“[We] must stop pretending that there is only one way to combat global climate change or achieve American energy independence,” Manchin said in his statement. “The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 addresses our nation’s energy and climate crisis by adopting commonsense solutions through strategic and historic investments that allow us to decarbonize while ensuring American energy is affordable, reliable, clean and secure. The need to balance all of these critical energy priorities is no longer open to debate given the energy threats we face.” 

The bill also includes $10 billion for an investment tax credit to build cleantech manufacturing plants that make electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines; $2 billion in grants to retool existing car factories; and $27 billion for a “clean energy technology accelerator.”  

Some climate advocates greeted news of the deal with cautious optimism. Fred Krupp, the president of Environmental Defense Fund, called the bill’s investments “an historic step by Congress to improve people’s lives,” adding that the package of tax credits “would rapidly accelerate our shift toward a modernized economy and make electric vehicles, clean power and clean manufacturing more affordable.” 

Others were worried that it would continue to prop up the fossil fuel industry, pointing to the fact that, as part of the deal, Democratic leadership has agreed to speed up the permit process for pipelines, along with other energy infrastructure, before the end of the fiscal year. “Streamlining permitting for natural gas pipelines and exports is not climate action, it is the opposite. More subsidies for dirty hydrogen, carbon capture, and nuclear energy are not climate action, they are the opposite,” said Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch.  

There may still be some hurdles in the way of the bill becoming law, such as centrist Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, who hasn’t announced whether she’ll support the package yet. But Democrats won’t require the support of any Republicans for the bill, as they’re planning to use the budget reconciliation process, which can pass with 51 votes (including Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote). If Congress does pass the bill, supporters say it will be the single-biggest climate investment in the country’s history.  

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