“By a wide margin, this legislation will be the greatest pro-climate legislation that has ever been passed by Congress.” — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

Everyone, except possibly Schumer, was bowled over when Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia, agreed to a substantial green bill after demurring for months.

Manchin, representing the U.S.’s second largest coal producing state, has long been a champion of the fossil fuel industries. He has personal interests in coal mining, interests that have made him rich. As a result, he has often appeared to be more of a Republican than a Democrat when it comes to energy and environmental issues. In particular, his resistance to President Biden’s climate efforts have made him something of a pariah among his fellow Democrats and a villain to environmentalists.

Without his support, the president’s ambitious plans were effectively thwarted, and any hope of the country meeting its international goals for reducing greenhouse gasses doomed, along with the nation’s reputation as a climate leader. A dark hour on the climate front.

But behind the scenes a few Democratic lawmakers led by Schumer continued to negotiate with Manchin and to great surprise all around emerged with the most ambitious climate bill in American history—a $369-billion climate and energy package.

Billions of dollars in tax incentives will ramp up wind, solar, geothermal, battery and other clean energy industries over the next decade. Companies will receive financial incentives to keep nuclear plants open and capture emissions from industrial facilities and store them underground. Car buyers with incomes below a certain level will receive generous tax credits for purchasing new or used electric vehicles. Americans will receive rebates to install heat pumps and make their homes more energy-efficient. Billions will go to address the disproportionate burden of pollution on low-income communities and billions more for programs to cut emissions in agriculture.

Democrats estimate the legislation will enable the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Manchin did all right for his state as well. The bill would make permanent a federal trust fund to support coal miners with black lung disease, and will offer new incentives for companies to build wind and solar farms where coal mines and plants have recently closed.

And there is something for industry. The federal government is to auction off more public lands and waters for oil drilling, expand tax credits for carbon capture technology, and speed up the process of issuing permits for energy infrastructure. On the other hand, some companies will be required to pay a minimum income tax of 15 percent.

Was the compromise worth it? Most environmental groups were delighted with the bill. Energy experts agree that any additional emissions from fossil fuel benefits will be dwarfed by the clean-energy provisions. Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said his group’s modelling showed the emissions cuts will be as much as 10 times greater than the effects from the support for fossil fuels.

Does the bill do enough to stop global warming in its tracks? Almost certainly not. President Biden wants to cut U.S. emissions to at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, roughly what scientists say the world must follow to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C.

The bill represents reality. It represents what can be achieved today in a world with a continuing need for fossil fuels combined with a politically powerful oil industry. But it’s a huge step toward what we ultimately need to do. If we never achieve that goal, we will simply have to accept our fate and adapt the best we can to cascading catastrophes.

Today, we keep our fingers crossed and hope the bill passes Congress. Then we’ll have something to celebrate. Senator Manchin, champion of the coal industry, has signed on to a deal that will hasten the demise of coal plants in his country. That alone signifies something.

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