WASHINGTON — The centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda is running into opposition from key moderate Democrats, raising questions about whether Congress will pass legislation that significantly slows global warming.
Biden has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 50% within a decade, a potentially insurmountable task without major changes in the way the country generates electricity.
Democrats had hoped their Build Back Better program would serve as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to combat climate change at a time when their party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.
But as negotiations enter their most serious stage, the top climate provision is running into significant political opposition.
The plan’s Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would encourage utilities to increase their use of renewable energy through a combination of payments and fines, is opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democrat from a coal- and gas-producing state. Last year, he reported about $492,000 in dividends on stock from his family’s coal brokerage business, according to his latest financial disclosure.
Most Democrats consider the clean electricity proposal dead unless it is significantly weakened.
Democrats’ alternative pathway to address climate change, a carbon tax on polluters, has also failed to gain sufficient support. Manchin and another Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, have said it appears unlikely to make it into the legislation.
“I’m quite concerned. We’re not where we need to be on climate,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who met with Biden on Tuesday alongside other progressive Democrats. “My plea to the president was don’t abandon your 50% reduction goal by the end of this decade because we can’t.”
Climate has emerged as perhaps the most vexing policy area in the Democrats’ bill, which they also hope will reshape the nation’s social safety net programs.
Other portions of the bill can be tweaked around the edges or scaled down. But reducing the scope of the climate provisions would defeat the purpose of dramatically reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.