A surprising agreement among Democrats in the US Senate opens the door to ambitious climate action in the United States and unexpectedly allows President Joe Biden to approach his climate goals. That is what American environmental organizations say in response to the political breakthrough, which has led to great surprise in Washington.
The climate and tax agreement involves a total of 739 billion dollars, approximately 724 billion euros. Over the next ten years, 370 billion will be allocated to promote the sale of electric cars with tax breaks. Renewable sources of energy such as solar panels and wind turbines should also be promoted. The deal, which also includes health care grants and a 15 percent minimum tax for large companies, represents a much-needed victory for Biden.
The package represents “the biggest legislative moment for climate and energy policy in America,” Heather Zichal, chairman of the board of America’s Clean Power, a clean energy company, told the AP news agency. According to research firm Rhodium Group, the measures could reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 31 to 44 percent by 2030 compared to 2005.
Biden, who faces stagnation in his political agenda, high inflation and low popularity, called the deal “historic” and urged rapid Congressional approval. “We are improving our energy security and tackling the climate crisis,” he said.
The sweeping political deal was struck this week between Senate leader Chuck Schumer and his party colleague Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who, much to the chagrin of Biden and other Democrats, opposed an ambitious package for months. Manchin, who had said he feared that stimulus measures would further fuel high inflation in the US, agreed after intense pressure. The new package is less ambitious than the initial $3,500 billion plan that Democrats had wagered on under the ‘Build Back Better’Biden’s calendar.
This may have to do with concessions to the fossil fuel sector. Manchin, who represents the coal state of West Virginia, negotiated simplification of the licensing system for energy projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline gas pipeline in his state. It also promotes oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.
According to Brett Hartl of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, the development of renewable energy is thus “handcuffed” to oil extraction, which in his view has the opposite effect. However, the oil sector has also strongly criticized the package, which according to an interest group would have “negative consequences” for energy prices.
Republicans are vehemently against
Democrats hope to speed through Congress before the summer recess begins late next week. That requires all 50 Democratic senators to vote in favor in the Senate — which is split equally between the two parties, but where Vice President Kamala Harris can give the casting vote as president.
Republicans are unanimously against the plan. Their Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, called the plan “an absolute disaster,” which he says will fuel inflation further. McConnell suffered a rare strategic defeat: The Schumer-Manchin deal became public knowledge shortly after his fiat passed a Senate subsidy bill for the US semiconductor industry, which he otherwise would have blocked.
It is still highly uncertain whether the proposal can overcome hurdles in Congress. Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who also regularly opposes proposals from her own party, has not yet announced how she will vote. If she agrees, all fifty senators on the Democratic side must be present for the vote – which could throw a spanner in the works. In addition, the package has yet to be approved in the House of Representatives after that, where Democrats could lose just four votes.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of 30 July 2022
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