Apparent Defeat of Clean Energy Legislation in Congress Is a Staggering Loss for Our Country and the Climate

Alexandra Rogan

July 15, 2022

The apparent death of an urgently needed clean energy and climate justice bill is a staggering loss for the country and the climate.

Because no Senate Republicans were expected to support the legislation, passage fell to Democrats, who hold a razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate — and efforts to make an intraparty deal failed to emerge despite months of effort.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) had reportedly reached an agreement on a prescription drug plan — a major sticking point in negotiations over the legislation, originally known as the Build Back Better Act. But Manchin effectively killed the bill’s clean energy provisions on July 14.

Left on the Senate’s cutting room floor appear to be up to $300 billion in clean energy provisions, including:

  • Clean energy tax credits that would have incentivized clean manufacturing, including credits for producers and buyers of clean power sources like wind and solar.

  • A $3 billion investment in environmental justice that would have helped address the disproportionate effects of climate change and pollutants among people of color and low-wealth communities, who face a higher risk of environmental damage and climate change due to longstanding systemic racism and economic inequity.

Legislation Included Key Provisions

These provisions would have taken needed steps toward limiting the global average temperature change to 1.5 degree Celcius, the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, and transitioning our nation to a clean energy economy.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar package in November 2021. But reconciliation on climate and social spending has been an ongoing dilemma in the Senate, due in large part to objections from Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia. Prospects for future major climate legislation are grim due to the GOP’s chances of winning control of at least one chamber of Congress in this fall’s elections.

The Senate’s failure to pass the clean energy provisions comes on the heels of recent damage done to our nation’s ability to fight climate change by the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, the court issued a devastating ruling that hinders the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in West Virginia v. EPA.

This decision presents a major challenge to developing clean air regulations and to the responsibility of the EPA, whose mission is to protect human health and the environment. Developing and enforcing regulations is central to its mission; without the freedom and ability to develop and enforce regulations, the EPA is less able to address growing climate dangers.

One bright spot in Congress has been the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which President Biden signed into law in November 2021. The projects included in the package aim to improve the overall quality of infrastructure across the country, with a strong focus on climate change mitigation.

The First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research group, finds that 25 percent of all critical infrastructure in the United States face the risk of irreparable damage from floods. Developing more energy-efficient buildings creates the possibility of safer, more resilient infrastructure across the country, especially in underserved communities.

But our government and our nation must go much further to create a safer, more equitable, and more liveable planet. It can, and must, do more.

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