From dazzled to doubtful: New U.S. climate deal draws range of reactions

Yesterday, Senator Joe Manchin (D–WV) stunned observers of U.S. politics with an announcement that he had agreed to back a sweeping tax and spending plan that would, among many other things, pour $369 billion into promoting clean energy sources and fighting climate change over up to a decade. Just weeks ago, a similar but bigger plan—known as Build Back Better— appeared dead after Manchin expressed concerns about its impact on inflation and federal spending. With no Republican support, the bill needed the votes of all 50 Democrats in the Senate to pass.

Whether the new deal—dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 ( summary here )—will clear that 50-vote threshold remains uncertain, and then it must survive a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. But backers including President Joe Biden are cautiously optimistic that the package, which is the result of more than 18 months of negotiations among Democrats, will become law. If so, the law would enable the largest federal investment ever in clean energy and curbing climate change, including billions of dollars for energy research and forest and coastal restoration projects. Supporters of the bill say it will help the United States reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030. But it also includes provisions that favor the fossil fuel industry, a major player in Manchin’s home state.

Analysts are still combing through the massive package. So far, many of those who have been urging Congress to take more action on climate change are giving it relatively good reviews—but some are raising concerns about certain provisions. Not surprisingly, those who don’t see a need for a government role in addressing climate change are taking a dimmer view.

Here’s a sampling of reactions so far.

“This is a game changer,” tweeted climate policy specialist Leah Stokes of the University of California, Santa Barbara. She thanked Manchin for “doing the right thing and coming back to the negotiating table.” Although the bill contains trade-offs, she wrote, it will move the United States closer to meeting its international commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Analysts at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environmental group, are worried by provisions that require the United States to offer up millions of hectares of federal territory—both offshore and on land—for oil and gas leasing before providing federal land for wind and energy projects. “This is a climate suicide pact,” said Brett Hartl, CBD’s government affairs director, in a statement . “It’s self-defeating to handcuff renewable energy development to massive new oil and gas extraction.”

“I’ll take this win for now,” tweeted prominent climate scientist Michael Mann , characterizing the bill as “perfect meet enemy-of-the-good.” It is “about the best climate legislation climate advocates could hope for from the current congress,” he added . “More aggressive climate policy is necessary, and that will require massive turnout of progressives in the Fall mid-term elections.”

The bill “is a bright spark of hope in our fight against the climate crisis,” said Representative Paul Tonko (D–NY), a vociferous climate advocate in the House. “Every member [of Congress] who cares about the future of our planet should unite to advance this legislation.”

“This proposal is nothing more than a repackaging of the same bad ideas with a new name slapped on it,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, told E&E News . “It is especially harmful because it will undermine manufacturers’ competitiveness at a time when the industry is reeling from supply chain disruptions and record inflation,” he wrote, alluding in part to the bill’s call for some tax increases.

The bill “is no unmitigated victory. It is larded with presents for the fossil fuel industry,” wrote Bill McKibben , a prominent climate activist. Still, he notes that the Senate “finally—for the first time in more than three decades—seems set to pass actual serious climate legislation.”

The Senate deal “is nothing short of historic,” Local Solar for All , a coalition that promotes solar power, said in a statement. “For solar energy, and distributed solar in particular, this legislation will boost domestic manufacturing needed to bring accessible solar energy to every community in the United States.”

Linda Frame, president of the West Virginia Environmental Council, said in a statement that “we are guardedly optimistic” that the “breakthrough on climate legislation” would reach “the finish line. … With many regions of our country either on fire or underwater, including deadly flooding impacting our Kentucky neighbors, we need to sprint to that finish line.”

Republicans in the Senate are vowing to try to derail the bill. “Senate Democrats can change the name of Build Back Broke as many times as they want, it won’t be any less devastating to American families and small businesses,” tweeted Senator John Cornyn (R–TX) . The proposed policies, he added, risk “crushing energy producers with new regulations.”