Manchin backs climate bill: greenwashing or true progress?

Tina Landis is the author of the book Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism and is currently on a national speaking tour.

At the same time that catastrophic floods, wildfires, heatwaves and extreme drought impact much of the United States and the globe, our so-called leaders have been arguing over which crumbs to throw at us to appease rising concern over our unraveling climate. 

The $369 billion climate and tax package supported by coal baron Sen. Joe Manchin is being applauded by corporate media outlets as “the most ambitious climate bill in United States history.” – which sadly may be true. 

Keep in mind this bill still needs approval by all 50 Democratic senators and the House in order to move forward — with rightwing Democrat Kyrsten Sinema refusing to comment on the bill as of this writing. So it remains unclear if even these meager reforms will be achieved. 

So what is in the deal and will it have an impact?  

  1. The proposed bill will provide $30 billion in tax incentives to wind, solar, geothermal, battery storage and other “clean” energy industries over the next decade. 

First, studies show that the United States actually needs to spend $1 trillion annually over the next decade to meet its emission goals of a 50% reduction over 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. So the $369 billion spread out over a decade falls far short of the funding that is needed. The money does exist to achieve these emission reduction goals: Simply divert the $1 trillion annual war budget to fund a Green New Deal. 

Also, the bill hopes to achieve emission reductions through tax incentives for renewable energy development and fees on polluters, which assumes that enough of industry will decide to “do the right” thing in order to meet reduction goals by choosing to pollute less and taking advantage of the credits. We instead need direct government control over industry to rapidly deploy the renewable infrastructure and ensure that emission reductions are met within the short timeframe needed for our survival. 

  1. There will also be incentives to keep aging nuclear plants from shuttering and funds for carbon capture controls and storage aimed at reducing emissions from coal-fired plants.

The aging nuclear plants in this country are already at risk of catastrophic failure. They need to be safely decommissioned, not have their operating lives extended. And we need to focus on the rapid transition off fossil fuels rather than allowing polluting energy producers to continue to operate by installing carbon capture controls and unproven carbon storage technologies. 

The most effective and proven carbon storage system that exists is trees. Leaving forests intact and globally reforesting what has been destroyed with diverse native species would capture two-thirds of all the carbon emitted since the Industrial Revolution. But a mass reforestation program would not be profitable for corporations.

  1. There would also be tax credits for low-income households to purchase electric vehicles and electric heat pumps to reduce energy needs and funds to address the legacy of environmental racism by providing $60 billion to address pollution in the most impacted communities.

Tax credits to low-income communities aren’t bad, but how many can afford an electric vehicle or a costly electric heat pump even with the credit after the last several years of pandemic, job loss, and inflation on already stretched incomes? In general, we must reduce the carbon footprint of the Global North and move away from individual car ownership. Building efficient, accessible, zero-emission mass transit is key to reducing impact. And yes, there must be funds to address pollution in the most impacted communities, but $60 billion is just a drop in the bucket of what should be paid in reparations for decades of suffering and lives lost due to generational exposure to toxins that are still being emitted by industry on a daily basis in these communities. 

  1. The bill also sets up $27 billion in “green bank” funds for clean energy projects.

It remains unclear what types of projects the “green bank” funds would go to, but it will likely go to enrich “innovators” of new technologies, even though studies show that the technology exists today to shift to wind, water and solar energy production and still meet the world’s energy needs.

  1. $20 billion goes to reduce emissions from agriculture. 

It is also unclear how the $20 billion for agriculture will address the major climate impacts from this sector. It is unlikely it will go toward helping farmers shift to regenerative organic methods for growing food and raising livestock, which is what is truly needed to transform this sector to be ecologically sustainable and to achieve net zero emissions. 

  1. The bill would also implement a methane emission fee on industry that would then redirect those funds over a decade to prevent future methane leaks.

Methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas with a warming potential over 80 times greater than CO2 over a 20 year timeframe, must be immediately curbed. We cannot wait for these fines to fill regulatory coffers before capping the estimated 3 million abandoned oil and gas wells that continue to spew methane into the atmosphere.

  1. It is hoped the tax incentives will also expand next-generation nuclear reactors and hydrogen fuel production. 

Nuclear plants, including these unproven next-generation reactors, are impractical within the short timeframe we have for rapid emission reductions, are incredibly costly and energy intensive to build and take around a decade to construct. Wind and solar are by far the most cost-effective and efficient means to produce power and can be deployed in a short time frame. Hydrogen fuel production creates greenhouse gas emissions in the production process, and in the case of “green” hydrogen, uses massive amounts of already stretched freshwater resources.

  1. And here’s the kicker: The bill would also mandate new lease sales for oil and gas drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico! 

As of late 2021, there were more than 9,000 unused leases for drilling on federal and tribal lands that fossil fuel companies are just sitting on. We need to halt all new leases and keep existing reserves in the ground. 

In April, the UN warned that existing and planned fossil fuel production have us on track globally to surpass 3 C warming, which means an uninhabitable world. Yet, the mainstream media – the spokespeople for their corporate backers — are celebrating this potential agreement as a victory even with the inclusion of more drilling leases. 

An accurate assessment of the bill came from Center for Biological Diversity government affairs director Brett Hartl, who called the deal “a total catastrophe” that would lead to more emissions in the atmosphere. This bill makes sure that corporations will still make profits and that business as usual will continue while giving the perception of climate action. It’s really just a greenwashing campaign by the Democrats to win votes in November and save face internationally leading up to the next climate summit to be held in Egypt later this year.

Now more than ever we need to stand up and demand that the government take meaningful action on climate change. The clock is ticking. And without mass public pressure from below, the government will continue to operate in the interests of their corporate backers. To truly secure a livable future, we must do away with the for-profit capitalist system based on the endless exploitation of the planet and move to a socialist system, which uses the resources of society to meet the needs of the people while accounting for long term ecological sustainability. Humanity has the knowledge and capacity to make the transformations needed and millions around the globe are working toward this shift on the local level. But the 1% ruling elite are holding us back and we don’t need them.

Photo: Joe Brusky. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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