The collapse of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation would have disastrous consequences for the global climate crisis, making it almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges made under the Paris accords.
The US president’s sweeping economic recovery and social welfare bill is in serious trouble after the Democratic senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the $1.75tn spending package that includes the country’s largest ever climate crisis investment.
After a year of devastating fires, floods, and hurricanes for American families, West Virginia’s fossil fuel-friendly lawmaker made the shocking move. This was amid warnings that these deadly extreme weather events would intensify unless there are drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gases.
The Build Back Better (BBB) legislation earmarks $555bn to tackle the US’s largest sources of global heating gasses – energy and transportation – through a variety of grants, tax incentives and other policies to boost jobs and technologies in renewable energy, as well as major investments in sustainable vehicles and public transit services.
It is by far the largest chunk of federal funding for Biden’s climate crisis initiatives, without which experts say it will be impossible to meet the administration’s target of reducing By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions will be at least 50% lower than 2005 levels.
Globally, the US is second-largest emitter after China of greenhouse gases. Scientists warn that even halving US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 may not suffice to prevent a catastrophic rise.
But BBB would be a major step forward towards the US meeting the goals laid out by Biden at last month’s UN climate talks in Glasgow, with no time to waste given the regression during the Trump administration. Without it, the Biden government would have to rely on a variety of new regulations that could be repealed by future presidents.
Lawmakers, climate experts and labor groups have voiced intense anger and frustration over Manchin’s refusal to support the bill, which would leave the DemocratsWithout the votes necessary to pass it through the Senate.
Raúl Grijalva, chair of the House natural resources committee, said the concentration of political power in a few hands had caused nothing but “gridlock and frustration”.
“Our country has serious economic and environmental problems that demand government action. If we don’t take that action, we’ll look back at this moment as a decisive wrong turn in the life of our country,” Grijalva said in a statement.
“Who died and made Joe Manchin king, how is this a democracy?” said Mary Annaïse Heglar, climate writer and co-host of the podcast Hot Take. “There’s been a dereliction of duty by politicians for decades who’ve failed to make the case for climate action … climate math won’t reset just because the political math did.”
Writing on Twitter, Jesse Jenkins, an energy professor at Princeton University who leads a group analysing the potential of BBB, said Manchin’s decision was “devastating” given the high stakes. “Passing #BuildBackBetter would lower energy costs and secure both the US’s climate goals and its global competitiveness in some of the most important industries of the 21st century. Failure would cost Americans dearly.”
BBB would expand on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, signed into law last month, which contains important steps towards transforming America’s fossil fuel fired transport system by incentivizing zero emission public transit, a national network of electric vehicle chargers and a renewables energy grid.
BBB goes even further. BBB offers incentives for homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs and insulate homes.
It also provides significant funding for addressing a variety of environmental injustices that have resulted in Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other marginalized Americans being disproportionately affected by the harmful effects of fossil fuel polluting, old infrastructure like lead pipes, emerging toxicities, and the climate crisis.
The bill includes billions in grants and other schemes to clean-up pollution and create toxic-free communities. Healthy ports. Climate-resilient affordable housing. Research and development infrastructure at historically Black colleges.
So if Manchin move finally scuppers the BBB act – as is widely feared – frontline communities in the US, and across the world, would bear the brunt of the inaction.
“Build Back Better is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to combat the climate crisis and advance environmental justice through transformative investments that only the government can provide,” said Abigail Dillen, president of the legal non-profit Earthjustice. “The urgency couldn’t be greater. As communities across our country are displaced by weather disasters and others breathe polluted air and drink poisoned water, political leaders like Senator Manchin cannot continue denying the crisis before us.”
The climate crisis is unquestionably causing havoc in the world. 2021 is one of the most devastating years for weather disasters in America. This year’s death toll includes at least 200 people killed by extreme heat in the Pacific north-west over the summer and 125 deaths caused by the extreme freeze in Texas in February.
After years of scepticism about the subject, the The majority of Americans want government action to address this issue. the climate crisis but the majority of republicans – and a handful of democrats – continue to obstruct meaningful policy initiatives.
Manchin, whose family is a beneficiary of West Virginia’s coal industry, has already proposed key climate policies during the BBB negotiations, including a program to encourage electricity utilities to use renewable energy sources.
Yet even some of Manchin’s core supporters are urging him to reconsider his opposition to the current bill, which includes several policies that would directly benefit large numbers of West Virginians including the state’s struggling coal miners.
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), who named Manchin an honorary member last season, stated that any legislation not passing BBB will mean that black lung disease benefits for coalminers will be lost. The union also supports the bill’s tax incentives that encourage manufacturers to build facilities on abandoned coalfields that would employ thousands of unemployed miners.
Cecil Roberts, the union’s president, said: “We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coalminers working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”