House Democrats urge Biden to pass climate change portion of Build Back Better


Supporters demonstrate in favor of Build Back Better on the Senate Steps of the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 15, 2021.

Leigh Vogel | Getty Images

House Democrats have re-upped calls for President Joe Biden to move ahead with the $555 billion in climate change investments already passed by the House as part of the Build Back Better Act, which has stalled for more than a month in the Senate.

The group of Democrats, who are running for reelection in swing districts, have demanded that the president quickly finalize clean energy and climate-change provisions that can pass the Senate in the coming weeks. They said that the urgency of the climate crisis requires immediate action.

“In the two months since the House passed the Build Back Better Act, mid-December tornadoes killed at least 78 people in Kentucky and late December wildfires destroyed 1,000 homes in Colorado,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter this week. “The time for you to work with the Senate to finalize and pass the strongest and most comprehensive version of the Build Back Better Act that can get 50 Senate votes is right now.”

The demands for climate action were led by Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., and signed by over 20 Democrats. They come after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., the swing vote in an evenly split Senate, sunk the $2.2 trillion package by opposing it in December.

The climate portion of the legislation represents the largest-ever federal investment in clean energy and would help the U.S. get roughly halfway to meeting the administration’s pledge to curb emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030, according to the nonpartisan analysis firm Rhodium Group.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks between meetings at the Capitol in the midst of ongoing negotiations over the Build Back Better bill, which aims to bolster the social safety net and fight climate change, in Washington, U.S. December 14, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The climate investments in Build Back Better largely come through tax incentives for low-emissions energy sources.

The bill’s biggest spending components include 10-year tax credits to expand and accelerate investments in renewable power, including wind, solar and nuclear. It has a proposal to provide an electric vehicle tax credit of up to $12,500 for vehicles made at a unionized factory in the U.S. It would invest in new research for carbon capture technology and create a Civilian Climate Corps to spur job growth and conserve public lands, among other things.

 “We remain optimistic and are more determined than ever to ensure that a transformational package can pass. Failure is not an option,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. “When it comes to the climate crisis, time is not on our side.”

Every Senate Democrat would need to support the bill for it to get to president’s desk and become law. Meanwhile, every congressional Republican has opposed the plan, arguing it would worsen the worst inflation the U.S. has seen in decades.

Democrats’ hopes of passing any legislation on their own in the near future took a hit Tuesday when the office of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan announced the New Mexico Democrat underwent surgery after suffering a stroke. Lujan is expected to make a full recovery.

Earlier this month, Biden said he will likely have to break up his plan to invest in social programs and climate policy, and that he believes he can win support for spending to combat climate change.

“I’m confident we can get pieces, big chunks of the Build Back Better law signed into law,” the president said during a press briefing. “So I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest of it.”

Manchin, who comes from the coal-rich state of West Virginia and profits from a coal consulting business he founded, has indicated he is open to passing standalone climate provisions outside of the BBB legislation, including production tax credits for the solar and wind sectors.

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Manchin previously rejected the bill’s proposed clean electricity program. The initial key component of the president’s framework would have incentivized energy companies to shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy and penalized companies that did not.

Manchin also opposed a proposed fee on emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, as well as a provision that would provide tax credits to some electric vehicle consumers.

The senator on Tuesday told NBC News that there are no formal talks underway on the Build Back Better bill.

“We always start at scratch, but things have changed since then,” Manchin said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the administration has not set a deadline to pass the bill. The country’s last effort to pass climate legislation was in 2009, when congressional Democrats failed to approve a carbon pricing system under former President Barack Obama.

The president and other world leaders have pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global temperature increases from surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius level inscribed in the 2015 Paris Accord. Scientists have warned the world has already warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and is on track to see global temperatures rise 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

— CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed reporting