Senate climate hawks got a new shot of optimism this week as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin gave perhaps his most full-throated endorsement yet of the climate change and clean energy portions of the Build Back Better package, Biden’s economic and social safety net bill.
“I think the climate thing is one we probably can come to an agreement on much easier than anything else,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday.
Manchin said he wouldn’t support the full package – mainly because of issues with child tax credits – last month, and he reaffirmed his opposition on Wednesday, saying his opinion on the legislation has not changed.
But his endorsement of the climate provisions served as a glimmer of hope that Biden’s climate agenda could be passed sooner rather than later.
“Let’s get it done and pass these provisions in Build Back Better now,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts tweeted Tuesday after Manchin’s remarks.
Despite the swing vote’s support, there’s no real push yet among Senate Democrats or outside advocates to pull the approximately $550 billion-worth of climate and clean energy provisions out of Build Back Better and attempt to pass it as a standalone bill. Doing so could jeopardize the rest of President Joe Biden’s sprawling legislative agenda, lawmakers and advocates told CNN, which is still being negotiated.
“No, I don’t think so,” Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota told CNN when asked if Democrats would pursue a standalone climate bill. “We have to find a package that can get 50 votes and I think that’s the path we are on right now.”
With no clear voting timetable set on Build Back Better and Democratic leadership tackling voting rights legislation in the coming weeks, Smith said she thinks final negotiations need to happen soon.
“In the world of the US Senate, I hate to commit to a specific time, but this process of trying to come to final agreement on BBB can’t be a months-long process, it needs to be a weeks-long process,” Smith told CNN. “That’s not a path you plod down for months and months.”
Manchin’s Tuesday comments validated something senators, Senate staff and climate advocates have been saying for weeks: they believe the funding – most of which is composed of clean energy and electric vehicle tax credits – is on solid ground when it comes to the West Virginia senator.
“It’s probably not about doing climate standalone, but it is promising,” a senior Democratic aide told CNN. “It’s a notable thing [Manchin] made these remarks, it fits our perception of what we understood privately. With all this mess with Build Back Better, the climate stuff is not the hold-up, and the gaps are really bridgeable.”
Manchin has been publicly and privately supportive of the clean energy tax credits that make up the largest portion of the bill’s climate provisions, save for a disagreement on boosting electric vehicle tax credits from $7,500 to $12,500 for union-made vehicles. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Tom Carper has also been negotiating with Manchin for weeks on a proposed methane fee, which would be levied on oil and gas producers leaking planet-warming methane above a certain threshold.
“Senate Democrats are all united in recognizing the urgent need to get significant climate legislation done,” Carper told CNN in a statement. “I’m optimistic we can get the votes to pass the Build Back Better Act with robust climate provisions included.”
Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii also told reporters on Tuesday there’s no immediate urgency to get Build Back Better passed by the end of the month.
“We’ll get this done as soon as we have the votes,” Schatz said during a media call. “If that’s tomorrow morning, then that’s when we’ll do it. If it’s February 7, that’s when we’ll do it.”
Still, Schatz added: “We’re going to get this done, come hell or high water. Because, right now, we have both hell and high water.”
With little appetite to pass the climate provisions separately, it could remain an option if negotiations continue to drag into next month or early spring. In order to pass Build Back Better with their 50-vote majority, Democrats are relying on a procedural process known as budget reconciliation. With Biden’s legislative agenda already slimmed down significantly, there’s anxiety about cutting it even more.
“Time is not necessarily our friend here,” Smith told CNN. While the Senate takes up voting rights over the next few weeks, Smith said she hopes “there will continue to be conversations between the White House and Sen. Manchin” on Build Back Better. Manchin told reporters Wednesday he is open to talking to Biden about the bill, but no such conversation has been scheduled.
After Manchin’s comments on Tuesday, advocates say it’s incumbent on Democratic leadership and the White House to find a path to pass the climate provisions.
“Failure is not an option,” Jamal Raad, executive director of climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, told CNN. “Does that mean making some tough choices and prioritization? Yeah, sure. It would be a catastrophic failure after hearing his comments not to get them done in some way shape or form.”
Other Democratic senators voiced frustration that the chamber has not yet taken up climate legislation, as extreme weather and wildfires fueled by dry conditions have continued into the winter. Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper spoke about the recent devastation near Boulder, Colorado, after a wildfire burned down subdivisions, charring over 6,000 acres.
“It is ridiculous we are still willing to avoid what is a scientific truth and turn away, and subject cities and towns all across this country to the same agony the Marshall fire has caused,” Hickenlooper said.
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.