Climate Bill Rope-A-Dope, Part Infinity: Joe Manchin Caves (Or Does He?)

US Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia broke the Internet last night when he delivered this nugget in a joint statement with New York Senator and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: “After many months of negotiations, we have finalized legislative text that will invest approximately $300 billion in Deficit Reduction and $369.75 billion in Energy Security and Climate Change programs over the next ten years.” Before Senator Manchin pulls a Lucy and snatches the legislative football away, let’s take a look and see what all the fuss is about.

The New Climate Bill: What Does $369.75 Billion Get?

Some may say that the new climate bill doesn’t go far enough in terms of dollars and cents, and some would be correct. However, it’s better than a kick in the pants as the saying goes. In fact, it’s much better.

To put the climate bill in perspective, earlier this week the grid operating system MISO announced a package of 18 new transmission line projects for an investment that totals $10.3 billion all together. According to an estimate by the Clean Grid Alliance, that new capacity will unlock 53 gigawatts in new wind, solar, hybrid and battery-type energy storage projects.

“[That’s] enough to power about 12 million homes and 213,000 jobs,” the Clean Grid Alliance observed. “About 120,000 jobs can also be estimated to result from the transmission work, so we can expect about 333,000 jobs total from the transmission work and renewable resource construction together.”

MISO (the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, and it’s pronounced “em-EYE-soh”) covers 15 states running down the nation’s midsection, including wind-rich Iowa and the Dakotas. Climate bill or not, they are certainly gearing up for the energy transition.

So, What’s In The New Climate Bill?

Apparently all the fuss was over what to name the climate bill. The original name was “Build Back Better,” which evoked a focus on new infrastructure investments aimed at cutting the nation’s carbon footprint and enhancing resiliency in the face of catastrophic climate impacts such as those going on right now.

The climate bill was initially crafted last fall and it was delayed all these months because Senator Manchin kept insisting — actually, who cares what he was insisting. He single-handedly held up that bill all this time.

To be fair, all 50 Republican Senators also held up the climate bill. They have been aligned in lockstep against Build Back Better.

However, without any Republicans on board, Democrats need all 50 Senators on their side of the aisle to vote in favor, with the 51st tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris. That’s the only reason why Senator Manchin, for reasons best known only to himself, could prevent the bill from passing by refusing to caucus with his Democratic colleagues, until last night that is.

That’s all water under the bridge now, unless of course Manchin changes his mind again.

If he does follow through this time, climate provisions are still in the bill, only now it is not called Build Back Better. It is now called the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.”

What Is The Inflation Reduction Act Of 2022?

Actually, the name change was quite clever. Everyone is talking about inflation, especially Republican candidates for office who expect to make hay over the issue in the runup to the all-important November midterm elections.

The simple matter of a name change has pulled the whole rug out from under that pitch. If Republicans in Congress don’t vote for the climate bill, aka the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, they will look, well, stupid. The whole Republican party will look stupid. After complaining about inflation all year, they’ll be tied in knots trying to explain that inflation is bad, but Congress should not try to do something about inflation because that is also bad.

As for what’s actually in the climate bill, a bill summary was included in yesterday’s joint statement between Senators Manchin and Schumer. Here’s the money quote:

“The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will make a historic down payment on deficit reduction to fight inflation, invest in domestic energy production and manufacturing, and reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030. The bill will finally allow Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs and lower health care costs for millions of Americans. Additionally, we have reached agreement with President Biden and Speaker Pelosi to pass comprehensive permitting reform legislation before the end of this fiscal year. We urge every member of the U.S. Senate to support this important legislation.”

There’s More To The Climate Bill Than Meets The Eye

Hmmm…comprehensive permitting reform legislation, what could that possibly mean? Our friends over at MISO probably know what it means. MISO took pains to plan its new transmission projects mostly along existing rights-of-way in order to cut down on red tape, but it does make it clear that its ambitious plans need to go through regular permitting processes.

Here’s what the agreement with Senator Manchin over the new climate bill says about that:

“…the agreement calls for comprehensive Permitting reform legislation to be passed before the end of the fiscal year. Permitting reform is essential to unlocking domestic energy and transmission projects, which will lower costs for consumers and help us meet our longterm emissions goals.”

There could be some wiggle room for fossil energy in there, somewhere. However, the magic words are “lower costs for consumers” and “long-term emissions goals.”

A longer version of the bill summary has also been posted by the Senate Democrats. If you think we spend too much time talking about heat pumps over here at CleanTechnica, check out the $500 million allocated for heat pumps and critical materials in the Defense Production Act.

So, What Changed Joe Manchin’s Mind?

There is plenty of room on the Joe Manchin bingo card for guessing about why he now supports the climate bill, so have at it in the comment thread.

One good guess is that Manchin is feeling the heat from wind, solar, geothermal, and energy storage developers who are eager to make bank in West Virginia. The United Mine Workers of America labor union has also been pressuring policy makers to transition former coal communities into new green jobs, and the US Department of Energy has been offering up new job-creating clean power programs for disadvantaged rural communities.

For that matter, the state’s own Department of Economic Development features a wind energy image at the top of its home page, and takes note of new legislation enabling large scale solar development on derelict mining sites.

Another good guess is that Manchin wants to keep in good graces with his pals in the natural gas business, by ensuring that West Virginia gets a slice of the new hydrogen economy pie. After all, the Department of Energy has begun to disperse millions in new funding for new clean hydrogen projects, and West Virginia is a leading natural gas producer.

The primary source of hydrogen today is natural gas, so it makes sense for Manchin to lobby on behalf of his home state’s fossil energy business interests in the hydrogen economy context. The problem is that thing about “clean” hydrogen. The Energy Department is not interested in your run-of-the-mill gas-to-hydrogen systems, unless they are paired carbon capture facilities.

The carbon capture angle is a tough sell. Hydrogen buyers want the cleanest hydrogen they can get, and natural gas just doesn’t cut it now that alternative sources are available.

Maybe Senator Manchin didn’t know this, but those alternative sources are rapidly expanding. The cost of producing green hydrogen from renewable resources has been sinking like a stone. Most of the activity is focusing on electrolysis systems that deploy wind or solar power to push hydrogen gas from water. Extracting hydrogen from biomass and biogas is also in the running.

Even Texas, the epicenter of US oil and gas production, is gearing up for a new green hydrogen hub, deploying its wind and solar assets as well as other energy infrastructure. Other hubs are sprouting up from coast to coast, including a powerful four-state green hydrogen alliance linking New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The point is that nobody is fooled by this “clean” hydrogen thing. Just like nobody is fooled by the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.” It’s still a climate bill, whatever you want to call it.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: West Virginia could benefit from the new climate bill (Black Rock wind farm in Grant and Mineral counties courtesy of West Virginia Department of Economic Development).


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