with Alexandra Ellerbeck
The fate of President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda rests in the hands of the last Democrat left standing in West Virginia.
In a Senate split 50-50, Sen. Joe Manchin III is a crucial 50th vote on any contentious legislation, defining the limits of what Biden and the Democrats can accomplish.
Few of the new president’s priorities will be as polarizing as the environment, an area where Manchin, who is set to chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is poised to play an outsized role.
As Sarah Kaplan and I report, if Democrats are to fight climate change, he wants them to do it the old fashioned way — his way. That means deals forged through compromise, the gears of government greased by long-standing relationships and the occasional Mason jar of moonshine served during negotiations.
“I want to work with them and hear all different sides of it, from the environmental to the industrial base,” Manchin told us in a recent interview.
As the climate continues to warm, it remains to be seen what a moderate like Manchin can get done.
Biden ran on a $2 trillion plan to transition the U.S. economy toward renewable-energy sources and cut the planet-warming pollution that comes from oil, gas and coal. The biggest piece of Biden’s climate plan requiring congressional approval is a set of requirements on power plants to eliminate their contributions to climate change by 2035.
Ever mindful of Capitol Hill dynamics, Biden made sure coal- and gas-fired power plants could continue to operate, as long as they captured the carbon they emitted. Even so, Manchin is leery about setting a standard for power companies that depends on technology that isn’t yet cheap and effective enough.
“The only thing I believe very strongly is that, when the federal government sets standards that they want met, then there should be the technology to meet those standards,” he said.
Manchin is also wary of the Paris accord, at least as it is written today. Biden moved to rejoin on his first day in office. The senator echoes Republican critiques that the international agreement, designed to keep the global temperature increase “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, demands too little of America’s economic rivals.
“It has to be reworked,” he said before Biden’s inauguration. “China should be on the same timetable we’re on.”
Any major climate proposal with a chance of getting Manchin’s vote will in some way include carbon capture technology, which absorbs carbon dioxide before it exits smokestacks. That’s not only a way to allow coal- and gas-fired power plants to keep operating in a zero-emissions world, but a boon for West Virginia, which hosts an Energy Department lab in Morgantown that is a center for carbon capture research.
Lots of people across Washington see Manchin as a potential ally.
After the 2018 election, when Manchin was made ranking Democrat on the energy committee, many environmentalists were outraged at the elevation of an outspoken advocate for fossil fuels.
But working with the outgoing Republican chair, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Manchin pushed through a sharply divided Congress the biggest conservation legislation in a decade, helped fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the first time in a half-century and made sure the latest coronavirus stimulus bill included billions for solar, wind and battery storage.
Manchin’s environmental score as kept by the League of Conservation Voters jumped from a low of 20 percent in 2014 to a high of 86 percent in 2019. “I do think he has come a long way,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the green group’s senior vice president of government affairs.
At the same time, fossil fuel groups still see Manchin, who oversaw a coal brokerage before running for public office, as someone who can defend their interests, too.
“I think Sen. Manchin is somebody that our industry can work with,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president for policy at the American Petroleum Institute. “Hailing from a state that’s rich in coal and natural gas resources, he’s someone who recognized those are an important part of the mix as well.”
Some of Manchin’s stances have changed in parallel with the coal industry’s declining fortunes and climate change’s rising toll. The same man who once sued the EPA over restrictions on mountaintop removal mining eventually asked federal officials to study the environmental harm from the practice.
“Folks are always trying to figure out his evolution, did he change because of this or that,” said Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation and a friend of Manchin’s.
But the explanation is not so much a change of heart as a change of circumstances, O’Mara said. In light of the declining demand for coal — a consequence of shifting markets more than government regulation — Manchin sees clean-energy investments as a chance to create new jobs.
“Everything he’s done throughout his career [is] to make sure there’s some level of economic opportunity back home,” O’Mara said. “If you understand that about him, everything else makes sense.”
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Biden is expected to announce a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters Wednesday.
The White House has prepared documents that would halt new oil and gas auctions on federal lands and waters as the new administration reviews the program, Juliet Eilperin and I report. The draft order is still subject to final approval.
Biden is expected to release it on Wednesday as part of a broader plan aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Fossil fuel leasing on federal and tribal lands accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s annual carbon output.
John F. Kerry said the U.S. would follow through with its pledge to help developing nations with climate mitigation.
The U.S. climate envoy told the Climate Adaptation Summit that the United States would follow through with its pledge to the Green Climate Initiative, a United Nations program to help developing countries shift to clean energy and take preventive measures to minimize the harm from climate-related flooding and other extreme weather events, Bloomberg News reports.
The United States pledged $3 billion to the fund during the Obama administration, but so far only paid $1 billion of that amount, leaving a $2 billion shortfall. The United States has not contributed to the fund since President Donald Trump took office in 2017 and pulled the nation out of the Paris climate accord.
Kerry expressed disappointment about the United States’ withdrawal from international climate efforts during the Trump administration.
“Three years ago scientists gave us a stark warning. They said we have 12 years within which to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Now we have nine years left and I regret that my country has been absent for three of those years,” Kerry said at the online summit hosted by the Netherlands.
Chuck Schumer called on Biden to consider declaring climate an emergency.
The Senate majority leader told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that Biden could declare climate an “emergency,” which could give him expanded executive powers to act without legislation.
“If there ever was an emergency climate is one,” Schumer told Maddow.
More than 30 countries recognize climate change as an official emergency. Still, Biden never promised to invoke emergency powers to address climate change during the Democratic primary. But doing so could unlock more money for clean energy construction and allow for trade penalties on other countries, as we wrote last month.
Schumer also said that Democrats were exploring ways to include climate change legislation under reconciliation, a procedure that allows budget-related bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority. Unlike most bills, senators cannot use the filibuster to indefinitely delay reconciliation legislation.
Three of New York’s biggest pension funds voted to divest from fossil fuels.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott M. Stringer announced that pension funds representing teachers, school administrators and civil servants would divest an estimated $4 billion from fossil fuel companies.
“Our first-in-the-nation divestment is literally putting money where our mouth is when it comes to climate change,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Divestment is a bold investment in our children and grandchildren, and our planet.”
A former Justice Department environment chief was allegedly at the center of a plot to help Trump overturn the election.
Donald Trump entertained a plan in early January to push out acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and install in his place Jeffrey Bossert Clark, whom Trump had originally appointed to lead the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, our colleagues Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Carol D. Leonnig report.
Clark, who later came to lead the department’s Civil Division, was more open to challenging the election results and supporting Trump’s narrative of election fraud, people familiar with the matter told The Post. Clark has denied that he devised a plot to oust Rosen.
The Justice Department’s inspector general announced Monday that it will investigate whether any current or former official sought to improperly alter the outcome of the 2020 election. The Senate Judiciary Committee has indicated that it also plans to conduct an investigation.
As head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division since 2018, Clark defended Trump’s environmental rollbacks in court. He retained this post even after he became head of the Civil Division last year. He resigned shortly before Biden’s inauguration.
Montana’s senior senator wants to protect the state’s rivers.
Sen. Jon Tester (D) is pushing legislation to protect 336 miles of Montana’s rivers under federal protection. His proposed Montana Headwaters Legacy Act would protect 17 rivers by adding them to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems, restricting developments that could pollute, dam or sully the view of the rivers, Nick Ehli writes for The Post.
“Until now that law has had little impact here, an irony given the state’s renowned beauty. More than twice as many river miles are designated for protection in Idaho, nearly five times as many in Oregon,” Ehli writes. “Yet with a copper mine in the works on land near Montana’s prized Smith River, the bill’s goals seem especially timely.”
State politics in Montana are shifting red, which could be a challenge for a Democrat who is proposing more regulation. But Tester is banking on the state’s love for its natural wilderness, and he’s betting that he can make a case that clean water will benefit the state’s agriculture and tourism economies.
Ice is melting faster than scientists anticipated.
Research published this month suggests that global ice loss has increased rapidly and that scientists are underestimating how quickly sea levels could rise, our colleagues Chris Mooney and Andrew Freedman report.
“From the thin ice shield covering most of the Arctic Ocean to the mile-thick mantle of the polar ice sheets, ice losses have soared from about 760 billion tons per year in the 1990s to more than 1.2 trillion tons per year in the 2010s, a new study released Monday shows. That is an increase of more than 60 percent, equating to 28 trillion tons of melted ice in total,” Mooney and Freedman write.
Another study suggests that warming ocean waters could weaken glaciers and cause them to melt from the bottom. This factor could mean that scientists have been failing to account for the impact of melting ice sheets on sea-level rise.
Fox pounces headfirst to startle their prey.
The National Park Service shared a photo of a red fox diving headfirst into the snow in Yellowstone National Park. Red foxes can identify prey, such as field mice, buried deep beneath the snow.