With Kyrsten Sinema having carved her $14 billion dollars worth of private equity flesh out of the Manchin-Schumer climate-tax bill, it’s now headed for passage. The left in Congress has put up very little stink, a function of their (justified) belief that Manchin has effectively demonstrated that they have no leverage over him at this point that can move him in their direction. They’ve been beaten down, and they’re in we’ll-take-what-we-can-get mode.
I’ve also seen a fair amount of commentary online dismissing the bill as not even worth passing, because of the elements of it that further fund the production of fossil fuels, along with the side-deal to approve Manchin’s Mountain Valley pipeline, a natural gas project of mammoth proportions that’ll spew ever more emissions into the air, included methane, which is way worse than even carbon.
But here’s my take on why it’s good.
First, consider the status quo energy system: It’s heavily tilted toward subsidized fossil fuels, with clean tech and renewable energy remaining at the margins, unable to attract investment at scale because the field is so tilted against them and in favor of dirty energy. That restricted investment environment means innovation in the space moves at a much slower pace than it would otherwise. So not passing the bill, and leaving the status quo in place the next decade, locks in the emissions future we’re trying to avoid. It does the very thing people criticizing this bill from the left warn that the bill will do.
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In a world in which this bill becomes law, the energy industry will still be tilted toward fossil fuels, but clean energy will be competing on a much more even playing field. The clean energy banks and the tax credits will bring in private investment that is many times the sticker price of the public spending. In that world, there is a chance that technological progress will make clean energy cheap enough it drives dirty energy out of business, and there is also genuine hope that innovation around capturing and sequestering carbon and, say, turning it into rock underground can make a dent in atmospheric concentration levels. Putting public money behind these kinds of efforts at least gives humanity a shot.
The knock on this tech development is that it is all a smoke screen (literally) intended merely to prolong the life of the fossil fuel economy. And those technologies will be deployed to keep dirty energy projects running in mostly poor parts of the country, entrenching climate and environmental racism and injustice. And for many projects that’s true. But the fossil fuel economy isn’t going away anytime soon by defeating this bill. Whether fossil fuels continue in the near and medium term is not a choice that’s on the table.
Rhianna Gunn-Wright, the policy analyst who drafted the Green New Deal resolution, has made a similar version of the argument in starker terms:
quite frankly as a black woman currently holding my sleeping black child, i simply cannot say that another bill that treats black, brown, and indigenous lives again as the price of admission for domestic, political progress is something where the good outweighs the bad. that may be the case in terms of emissions reductions but *i* cannot make those words come out of *my* lips. what i can offer is what i see as the facts:
-this bill contains investments that will help decarbonize and, in doing so, save some lives.
-those investments come at tremendous, racist costs, the full scope of which we don’t yet know but could very likely take some lives.
and yet this is the only major climate legislation in front of us at what is likely the last opportunity to pass major climate legislation for the foreseeable political future.
it’s all very…american
The last hurdle remains the highly-political parliamentarian, who might have sharper knives out for this bill than the press suspects. But Schumer has leverage over her in ways that he didn’t before. There’s a good enough chance he’ll be majority leader next term, and she should know that if she screws Democrats on this bill, and they hang on next term anyway, her dream of spending the rest of her career as the Senate parliamentarian is over.