Schumer, Manchin and a green future

July 21, 2020: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) fighting for support to pass the HEROES Act HR 6800 in the Senate.

Recently, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned that fossil-fuel driven climate chaos is ravaging the planet. He said, “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide … Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, and ocean heat have broken new records. Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms, and wildfires.”

The climate movement has grown by leaps and bounds but the fight for a sustainable future is tough. The fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on the Republican Party and has had considerable clout in the Democratic Party. However, Joe Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) proposals had impressive environmental measures. 

The “physical infrastructure” (roads and bridges) component of BBB would turn into a smaller bi-partisan bill that passed and became law. The “human infrastructure” bill was passed by the Democratic majority in the House but was killed in the Senate by 50 Republicans and two Democrats, Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona). That bill was designed to improve conditions for families with universal pre-K and subsidized child care, paid family and medical leave, free community college and expanded tax credits. Other progressive bills died in the Senate after passing the House.

Nevertheless, the negotiations about a Democrats-only filibuster-proof budget reconciliation package went on. This angered Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who threatened to sabotage CHIPS, a bipartisan bill to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry, which many Republicans supported. But then Joe Manchin announced that he was quitting the negotiations over BBB. He was done. Democrats were enraged. McConnell rejoiced and let the CHIPS bill pass.

A few hours later, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Manchin surprised everyone by saying they had a reconciliation deal which was more than 700 pages long. They had been negotiating for many months. It’s called the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).The bill includes $369 billion for “energy security and climate change,” which is projected to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 40%. Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA.) said the agreement “will mark a historic direct investment in renewable energy and will unleash hundreds of billions of private investment for moonshot projects.” Khanna is a leading progressive Democrat who co-chaired Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. 

The bill also includes a 15% corporate minimum tax on companies with profits of more than $1 billion a year. It would also continue expansions to the Affordable Care Act that passed during the pandemic though 2025 and allow Medicare to pursue lower drug costs by negotiating directly with drug companies. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s leading business lobby, has pledged to oppose much of the bill.

It would significantly raise taxes on the rich and it would give the underfunded Internal Revenue Service its biggest budget increase in its history ($80 billion over 10 years).

“This would certainly be the biggest corporate tax increase in decades,” said Steve Wamhoff, a tax expert at Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a liberal think tank. “We’ve had decades of tax policy benefiting the rich, but this is really the first attempt to raise revenue in a progressive way that would begin to combat wealth and income inequality.”

National climate groups have criticized the bill for helping the fossil fuel industry. Manchin said it has “all of the above energy strategy.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity:

“The bill would require the Interior Department to offer at least 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing each year for a decade as a prerequisite to installing any new solar or wind energy. If the department failed to offer these minimum amounts for leasing, no right of ways could be granted for any utility-scale renewable energy project on public lands or waters.”

That’s bad. Manchin is a coal multimillionaire who has received the most money from the oil and gas industry of any senator in this current electoral cycle. He is a unique Democratic senator. Trump won 70% of the vote in West Virginia. The coal industry is dying and Trump promised to bring it back.

But Manchin acknowledges reality. An analysis of the bill by online environmental magazine Grist notes:

“The bill invests in almost every kind of clean electricity generation imaginable, and offers grants and loans to speed up the development of new transmission lines to carry that clean power to customers. Existing tax credits for wind and solar would be extended and made more accessible to tribes, municipal utilities, and rural cooperatives. These energy projects would get more money for meeting wage minimums or for siting projects in ‘energy communities’—in other words, creating clean jobs in areas that have long been hubs for fossil fuel work.” 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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