Climate Implications of "Other Vote" Promised to Manchin
To get West Virginia Senator Manchin’s game-changing support on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a contested $369 billion spending bill aimed at climate change, Senate Democrats have promised him a separate vote on other legislation that would expedite approvals for energy infrastructure projects. The move is much in response to Manchin’s voiced concerns about approving hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies for energy projects that could be defeated by red tape or lawsuits.
Of the projects included in the side deal for a separate vote is a controversial natural gas pipeline set to run through West Virginia and help Manchin’s home state ship the fossil fuel to Virginia. A one-page summary report obtained by the Washington Post details permitting reforms that include shorter environmental impact reviews for major” projects, shorter court challenges, and the consolidation of decision-making within one central government agency.
CNN: Sen. Manchin explains why he changed his mind on massive bill, July 31, 2022.
YaleConnections360: The Product | LNG and Energy's Perfect Storm, December 20, 2021.
Why This Matters
This energy side deal could pose another challenge: full support from Democratic Senators. Where the climate spending bill falls within Senate budget procedure, needing just 51 votes to pass, the new legislation does not. For the deal to pass, it will require a 60-vote supermajority and GOP approval.
As put by the Washington Post, "Republicans have supported similar measures in the past, but the agreement could face defections from liberal Democrats, who have warned against making it easier to open new oil and gas projects.”
For the most part, Democrats weigh the deal as the necessary price to pay to secure Manchin’s support. But some are wary. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) stated: "I really want to see all the details on the permitting. We all knew that any deal that would be struck between Schumer and Manchin would have a lot of fossil fuels in it. The question is on balance.”
PBS: Manchin, Schumer reach deal to address health care, climate change, the deficit, July 28, 2022.
NowThis: How the GOP Has Changed on Climate Change, July 17, 2021.
The YEARS Project: Conflict of Interest: Senator Joe Manchin’s Coal-Fired Agenda, August 17, 2021.
What’s The Real Cost?
Climate groups have largely said the trade is worthwhile. Their reasoning: Manchin’s vote on the broader package will unlock long-sought subsidies and tax credits for solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy, along with eliminating non-competitive leasing for fossil fuel drilling.
"We must pass the Inflation Reduction Act if we want to get on track to cutting carbon pollution in half by a decade,” said Leah Stokes, an energy policy expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "Without this legislation, we don’t have a pathway to get there; with it, we have a fighting chance. There are provisions I don’t agree with, but we have to be clear-eyed: Failure is not an option right now. We have to get climate investments over the finish line.”
Though the climate spending bill would be the biggest attempt at combating climate change in US history, the side deal with Manchin could undermine progress. The "Willow Project,” for instance, is a proposed drilling project on public land in the Arctic that had been blocked in a federal court. As a result of this agreement, the project could begin attracting new support.
"The price to be paid for Manchin's vote looks more and more like an oil and gas wish list," Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement to Reuters.
The Economist: Why politicians have failed to tackle climate change, May 22, 2020.
CNBC: How The U.S. Can Build A 100% Clean Grid, January 27, 2021.