Oct 21, 2021
By now, we are accustomed to the absurd premise at the heart of the negotiations over the Biden administration's Build Back Better Act: Any efforts to address climate chaos must satisfy West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a man who has made a fortune in the coal business and who once released a campaign ad where he shot a cap-and-trade bill with a rifle.
Instead of showing how willing they are to rein in programs that will reduce pollution, create jobs and provide real material benefits to working people, Democrats should go all in on what they say they really want.
This is beyond tragic, and yet in recent days things have managed to get even worse. White House officials and Democratic leadership have reportedly made a series of offers to convince Manchin to vote with the rest of the party in order to pass spending legislation that will address an array of issues, from climate and clean energy to increasing access to medical care and delivering more benefits to working parents.
When it comes to climate, the ploy has been to substantially weaken the bill. First, it was reported that Democratic leaders were dangling one deal: In exchange for accepting the White House's key clean energy centerpiece (the Clean Electricity Performance Program), the overall spending package would deliver more dollars to existing tax credit programs that aim to promote 'carbon capture tax.' To some, this may have looked like a decent compromise: They could still get the clean energy plan (which aims to reward utilities for delivering more clean power while sanctioning those that do not), and they would get another climate 'bonus' in a beefed-up carbon capture program.
But the tax credit program in question, known as 45Q, was very recently exposed as basically a giant scam. In 2020, the Treasury Department's Inspector General released a damning report that detailed the ways the fossil fuel industry had exploited this program. Of the $1 billion in credits that had been handed out, almost $900 million did not even meet the EPA monitoring and verification guidelines; most of the carbon that was supposedly being sequestered was not properly accounted for. That report came after intense criticism from those who warned that carbon capture credits were just a fossil fuel subsidy in disguise.
Indeed, the only 'success' for carbon capture has been 'enhanced oil recovery,' a technique that uses captured CO2 to extract additional oil from existing wells. That is hardly a win for the planet.
Despite these efforts to engineer a climate plan more friendly to coal and gas industries, Manchin has been unmoved. That has left the White House considering various market mechanisms, including a carbon tax or some sort of voluntary 'cap and trade' program where corporations trade credits instead of actually complying with mandatory reductions in air and climate pollution. None of these concepts are likely to be effective, and they shift the costs of climate action directly onto working people in the form of higher prices. There is, after all, a reason that fossil fuel corporations have become increasingly supportive of carbon taxes: They do little to alter the status quo, cost the companies next to nothing, and are far more preferable than aggressive actions to stop pollution.
So at this stage, Democrats have offered Manchin a basket full of polluter-friendly subsidies to prop up essentially non-existent carbon capture power plants (something even he has admitted), a seriously watered-down clean power plan that would barely do better than the status quo, or a meaningless carbon tax that mostly exists as a totem for an industry that pretends to care about the damage it has caused. And Senator Manchin has apparently not budged.
Instead of showing how willing they are to rein in programs that will reduce pollution, create jobs and provide real material benefits to working people, Democrats should go all in on what they say they really want. They must be adamant about eliminating the tens of billions of dollars in fossil fuel giveaways and putting that money into bonafide clean renewable solutions, not false hype about capturing pollution.
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