The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Dems pass huge climate bill assailed by some as another fossil energy sop

Written by Airiana Figueroa and Jacob Fischler

5 July 2022 US Significant Climate Events Map

Record-setting bill will fund extensive efforts to address climate change, but the sausage-making deal is decried by some as a ‘suicide pact’

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate, along party lines, passed a sweeping energy, health care, climate and tax package Sunday afternoon, following an overnight marathon of votes that resulted in just a handful of notable changes to the legislation.

The 755-page bill was passed after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie in the evenly divided Senate. It now heads to the House, where Democratic leaders have announced they will take it up on Friday.

At last, we have arrived,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.  Democratic senators broke out into applause as Harris announced passage of the bill, expected to total more than $700 billion.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he dedicated the measure to young Americans who have pushed and protested for the Senate to take action on climate change. 

“This bill will kick-start the era of affordable clean energy in America,” Schumer said. “It’s a game changer.”

Senate passage marks a major recovery for President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, after a larger package the White House largely wrote and pushed for the better part of a year could not win the support of centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, dimming the prospects of enacting health and tax policy changes and major climate spending.

“Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests, voting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs and reduce the deficit, while making the wealthiest corporations finally pay their fair share,” Biden said in a statement.

“This bill also makes the largest investment ever in combating the existential crisis of climate change.” 

He also urged the House to pass the bill and send it to his desk to sign into law. 

The bill would spend nearly $370 billion on clean energy programs, allow the Medicare health insurance program to negotiate some drug prices beginning in 2026, impose stiffer corporate taxes and bolster Internal Revenue Service enforcement to bring in more than $400 billion in new revenue over 10 years.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont pushed an expansion of the child tax care credit and other progressive changes to the legislation, but was defeated repeatedly as Democratic leaders argued the bill needed to remain intact in order to secure those two votes from Manchin and Sinema. 

Sanders also inveighed against the bill’s provisions to expand oil and gas development, despite its billions for cleaner energy sources like wind and solar that Schumer called “the boldest climate package in U.S. history.” 

“The bad news is this bill, as currently written, includes a huge giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders said on the Senate floor.

He proposed an amendment that he said would lift the sections of the bill related to oil and gas leasing, but it failed 1-99.

Sanders’ criticisms of the bill’s climate sections echoed those of the most aggressive environmental advocacy groups, who see the deal between Manchin and Schumer as not strong enough.

The Manchin-Schumer agreement, which formed the basis of the budget package, would require the Interior Department to make 2 million acres of federal land and 60 million acres of federal waters available for oil and gas leasing for the next decade as a condition of leasing other federal lands and waters for solar or wind development. 

It’s a move that Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called “a climate suicide pact.”

Legal and policy debates about furthering oil and gas development in the midst of global climate change have raged since Biden took office and partially stymied an ambitious agenda that began with Biden promising to ban new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.

A Louisiana federal judge in a June 2021 decision reversed Biden’s January 2021 executive order to pause new oil and lease sales, saying federal law required periodic sales.

But in January 2022, a federal judge blocked drilling in 80 million acres of waters in the Gulf of Mexico, ruling the Biden administration did not take into consideration the effect that the warming greenhouse gas emissions from the lease would have on the planet.

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