The Senator from Fossil Fuel is 'Beating Biden Badly'
Joe Manchin and the Case of the Closing Climate Window
Today’s news that Joe Manchin won’t vote for Sarah Bloom Raskin as a governor of the Federal Reserve almost certainly ends her nomination—the White House says it will fight on to secure her seat since, in their very correct words, she’s “one of the most qualified people ever to be nominated for the Fed,” but it’s hard to see where they’re going to find a Republican vote: the fossil fuel industry has long owned the GOP lock, stock, and barrel after barrel; they also own Manchin, who’s gotten more of their money than anyone else in DC.
We’re in a climate right. To support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
And what a return on investment. Last autumn, Manchin forced Biden to scrub the most important part of his climate legislation: the Build Back Better provisions that would have forced utilities to switch to renewable energy at a measurable pace. Biden’s team substituted half a trillion dollars in clean energy tax credits—all carrot, no stick, but better than nothing. But that too has been Manchined, at least so far. As David Dayen pointed out in the American Prospect last week
Manchin wants an “all of the above” approach to energy—he’s the one spearheading the effort to ban Russian energy imports on the idea that we can make up for that with domestic oil and gas. Not only would the current compromise tax credits for nuclear and even hydrogen energy need to be sustained; negotiators would probably have to throw in fossil fuel subsidies or supports or some other enticements to make the deal. The current clean-energy subsidies would reduce emissions by between 13 and 22 percent, according to one analysis. But additional compromises on dirty energy would reduce that effectiveness.
To say that this bears scant resemblance to Biden’s pledge last April that we would cut emissions in half by 2030 is simply to admit the obvious: Manchin has been more important on climate policy than Biden, and today’s action helps foreclose the only other big lever that the White House might pull: using the financial system to crack down on fossil fuel expansion. Raskin said in 2020 “if we ignore climate change, we in essence destroy the economy,” a position endorsed by, you know, scientists. And economists. And indeed by the International Energy Agency, which said last year that new investment in fossil fuel expansion must cease. But it’s anathema to the industry, which is why, as Jane Mayer documented in the New Yorker, they’ve gone all out to block her nomination. Manchin was the linchpin of that strategy, and he used the “all of the above” formulation in his attack on Raskin—“Her previous public statements have failed to satisfactorily address my concerns about the critical importance of financing an all-of-the-above energy policy to meet our nation’s critical energy needs,” he said.
“All of the above,” of course, is the notorious Obama-era strategy for not offending anyone in the fossil fuel industry—oil, gas, and coal were on the same footing as sun, wind, and batteries. All six grew during Obama’s term, and Manchin is okay with the same standard; he’ll clearly allow some spending on renewables, but only if it is matched with subsidies for dirty energy too. The world’s climate scientists told us a week ago today that we had “a rapidly closing policy window for climate action.” Joe Manchin is trying sto slam it shut.
His rhetoric, sadly, seems to be catching on, Stockholm-Syndrome style, in the beleaguered Biden camp. Last week John Kerry, who had been fighting the good fight right through the dismal Glasgow summit, told an oil conference that the administration was “committed to an all of the above” approach; in reality, that means supporting more natural gas, even in the face of a brand-new report showing that we’d been underestimating methane emissions from natural gas projects by 70%. DOE secretary Jennifer Granholm has been backing big liquefied natural gas projects as a way to stand up to Putin on oil, even though they’ll take years—the renewable and conservation projects that could take months instead have so far gotten short shrift.
It’s not, in the end, Biden’s fault; he has no apparent leverage over Manchin, and there must be days his energy team wishes the Democrats hadn’t won those two Georgia Senate seats, because without them expectations would be much lower. But it’s no tribute to Biden and his team either—they ran, remember, on his supposed expertise in getting stuff through Congress. In any event, it means that a) we better win a few more Senate seats so that Manchin (who sat with the Republicans during the State of the Union) doesn’t matter and b) we better take on Wall Street directly, instead of hoping the Fed and the Treasury will do the fighting for us. That’s why, for instance, Third Act is corraling people to pledge to cut up their credit cards if the banks keep on their present course: Manchin can take the pen out of Biden’s hand, but he can’t take the scissors out of ours.
The Crucial Years is a reader-supported publication. Subscribe here if you can afford to; it makes my work possible. Thank you