Joe Manchin's Misleading Take On Climate, Build Back Better : Consider This from NPR This week, Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said he cannot support the Build Back Better Act, which contains more than half a trillion dollars in climate investments. The White House has been negotiating with Manchin for months, hoping he would cast a key vote for the plan in the Senate, where their party's majority is razor thin.

Without Manchin's support, the Biden administration's most ambitious action on climate may be dead, and the U.S. could fall short of key goals to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Reporters from NPR's climate change team — Jeff Brady, Lauren Sommer, and Dan Charles — take stock of where things go from here.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden also contributed to this episode. Read her piece Manchin says Build Back Better's climate measures are risky. That's not true.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Manchin's Holiday Gift To Fellow Dems: A Lump Of Coal On Climate Change

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1066691018/1067599008" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It was a statement that the White House called sudden, inexplicable and a breach of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin's commitments to the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

JOE MANCHIN: I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I've tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there.

CHANG: That was Manchin Sunday on Fox News sticking a knife in the president's Build Back Better Act. Build Back Better contains some of President Biden's biggest agenda items, including half a trillion dollars in climate investments. The Biden administration has been working to convince Manchin to cast a key vote for Build Back Better in the Senate because the Democratic majority there is razor-thin. But after months of negotiations and courting and concessions to Manchin...

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

MANCHIN: You're done. This is a no. This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do. I've always said this, Bret. If I can't go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can't vote for it.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: The idea that Joe Manchin says he can't explain this back home to his people is a farce.

CHANG: Now progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are saying, I told you so. She argued this week on MSNBC that the White House was wrong to rely on Manchin to support what some Democrats see as a watered-down version of Biden's original, more ambitious plans.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And we cannot allow the climate crisis to become a catastrophe, which is what is represented right now with this bill going by the wayside or being trimmed down any further. Some of us are actually going to have to live on this planet in 50 years, and right now - what happens right now determines how bad it's going to be.

CHANG: CONSIDER THIS - without more action, the U.S. will fall short of key goals designed to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We will fact-check Joe Manchin's reasons for opposing that action and look at what happens next. From NPR, I'm Ailsa Chang. It's Thursday, December 23.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. So here's the drama. Sources tell NPR that until half an hour before that Fox News interview this Sunday, the White House had literally no idea it had lost Manchin on Build Back Better. President Biden thought a deal was possible, and in fact, he says he still does.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You know, I told you before. You've heard me say this before. Some people think maybe I'm not Irish because I don't hold a grudge. Look. I want to get things done. I still think there's a possibility of getting Build Back Better done.

CHANG: That was Biden speaking to reporters the day after Manchin announced his opposition. Grudge or not, the White House put out a statement that accused Manchin of breaking a commitment to keep negotiating.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RACHEL SCOTT: So did Senator Manchin break his commitment to you?

BIDEN: Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

CHANG: So what is it going to take to get something done? Joe Manchin's position is not a mystery. Over the last few months, he has repeatedly outlined concerns about the plan's cost, especially when it comes to provisions like extending child tax credit payments. Those were put in place earlier this year by the American Rescue Plan. But Manchin has been really specific when it comes to his concerns about climate-related action in the plan. Here's what he said, for instance, about transitioning away from fossil fuels.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

MANCHIN: The transition is happening. Now they're wanting to pay companies to do what they're already doing. It makes no sense to me at all.

CHANG: As far back as September, Manchin argued on CNN that some green energy provisions of Build Back Better were unnecessary because energy providers are already moving towards renewable power.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

MANCHIN: They're accelerating something that can be very, very vulnerable to the reliability...

DANA BASH: So it sounds like a no. You don't support the provisions at all. OK.

MANCHIN: It makes no sense.

BASH: He's not totally wrong. A market transition away from fossil fuels is happening, but it's happening far more slowly than climate scientists say is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Another argument Manchin has made...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

MANCHIN: Reliability. Look what happened in Texas.

CHANG: In explaining his opposition, Manchin has said that shifting to clean energy too quickly could lead to major blackouts, like what Texas saw earlier this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

MANCHIN: It was natural gas that basically shut down in Texas that caused all that horrible carnage of people. It was awful.

CHANG: But that didn't happen because of too much wind and solar on the grid. Experts say the state's energy infrastructure, especially for oil and gas, wasn't prepared for historic cold weather.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH LESTER HOLT")

MORGAN CHESKY: In Texas, new record lows - Dallas dipping to negative 2, the coldest day since 1949.

CHANG: The kind of extreme weather that's expected to get worse as the climate warms. Texas had been warned after another freeze a decade ago that its energy system needed to be better winterized. Then there's an old argument about debt, one that Joe Manchin has repeated in interviews over the years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED REDCORDING)

MANCHIN: I remember when I first got to the Senate in 2011. Armed Services Committee, the Joint Chiefs of Staff - all of them are there. The chairman, Mike Mullen, was asked the question, what is the greatest threat that the United States of America faces? And he never hesitated. I thought it was going to be some other military might challenging us. He said, the debt of the nation will be the greatest threat the United States faces.

CHANG: That was Manchin on local radio in West Virginia this week, linking spending to national security.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANCHIN: Now, with that, I've never - that never left me. That's never left me.

CHANG: But climate change costs money, too. Climate-fueled fires, floods and storms cost the U.S. billions of dollars annually. And the Pentagon said this year climate change is increasingly destabilizing countries all around the world and threatening U.S. national security in all kinds of ways. National Guard members are spending more time fighting wildfires. Drought and sea level rise threaten U.S. military installations around the world. Ice melt in the Arctic is opening space for Russia and China to compete for natural resources and geopolitical control. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told NPR in October the military is already confronting those challenges.

KATHLEEN HICKS: We need to have the rest of the government with us. We can't do it just here at DOD. And so we're really dependent on Congress understanding these national security implications and helping us take a major step change forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: And there's one more thing to keep in mind here. Joe Manchin is a senator from West Virginia, a state where the economy has long been reliant on coal. In fact, Manchin's family has a coal business that he helped found - a business Manchin has reported made him half a million dollars last year. That business could have been hurt by President Biden's climate plans, which aim to accelerate an energy trend already underway - America's turn away from coal-fired electricity.

So what now for the Biden administration and U.S. action on climate change? Ari Shapiro spoke about that with three reporters from NPR's climate team.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: We are joined by Jeff Brady, Lauren Sommer and Dan Charles of NPR's climate team. Good to have you all here.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hello.

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Hi.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: Lauren, we're at the end of a year that has brought a relentless string of devastating, often deadly extreme weather events in the U.S. What role does climate change play?

SOMMER: Yeah, many of the extreme events that happened this year are supposed to be rare. It really was the year of these 1 in 1,000 year events, things that have a .1% chance of happening. That includes that record-breaking heat wave in June in the Pacific Northwest, which sent almost 3,000 people to the hospital. In August, there was extreme flooding in Tennessee that killed 20 people. And later that month, you know, the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused flooding in the northeast, and dozens of people drowned in their cars and basement apartments.

The science is showing that in general, the extremes are getting more extreme. But scientists can now also look at each individual event to find the fingerprints of climate change. And one study showed that it made the Pacific Northwest heat wave 150 times more likely to happen.

SHAPIRO: And, of course, emissions in the U.S. don't only affect the U.S. The U.N. climate summit took place in Glasgow last month. Dan, you and I were both there together. Review with us what the Biden administration has been trying to do on the world stage in its first year.

CHARLES: It's worth remembering, that Biden plan we're talking about - it was designed to meet the requirements of an international agreement from six years ago in Paris, where nations committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally no more than 1.5 degrees. So at that summit, these countries came together in Glasgow, Scotland, to basically see how this was going. The chairman of the conference, a British politician named Alok Sharma, kept repeating this phrase.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALOK SHARMA: Paris promised. Glasgow must deliver.

SHAPIRO: And did Glasgow deliver?

CHARLES: It delivered a little bit. Countries did make new promises to cut greenhouse emissions. The U.S. actually came in with the biggest pledge based on that Biden plan that's now looking unlikely to become reality. China and India released new goals where the cuts didn't look so big at first glance, but they would be a big shift away from the course that those countries have been on with emissions going up and up and up.

Still, when the U.N. added up all those pledges, it said this is not enough. This will not get us to that 1.5-degree goal set in Paris. What's actually required is quite drastic. It takes cutting net global greenhouse emissions by about half within 10 years and down to zero by the middle of the century.

SHAPIRO: So what does it mean if these goals don't get met? I mean, Lauren, we keep hearing that one event or another was the worst on record, but it's only going to get worse if things don't change, right?

SOMMER: Yeah. And, you know, that's what kind of undercuts all of these policy talks, right? The science is clearer than ever, and international scientists released a major climate assessment this year. They found that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are the highest they've been in the last 2 million years. And things are starting to accelerate. Temperatures are rising faster. Sea levels are rising faster.

And they really highlighted why that 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, you know, as Dan mentioned, is key. There will be extreme impacts either way, but warming beyond that sets the stage for much more extreme storms; you know, the flooding of many coastal cities and the loss of entire ecosystems like coral reefs.

SHAPIRO: OK. With that in mind, does the Biden agenda have any further chance of passing? I mean, Jeff, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he still plans to bring this Build Back Better act up for a vote next year. What are its prospects?

BRADY: Well, we don't know yet. But this - even the stripped-down version of that original legislation, it still includes a lot of climate elements, as you said, worth over a half trillion dollars. There are major tax incentives to boost clean energy and transportation and rebates to help people buy electric vehicles and shift to cleaner electricity at home.

I should also mention that there was a bipartisan infrastructure package that already passed. It included some climate elements - money for electric vehicle charging stations and to expand the power grid so it can carry more renewable energy. And the administration is also taking executive actions to reduce emissions. Just today, it raised mileage standards for new cars. And that's important because transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions right now.

SHAPIRO: If the elements in that Build Back Better proposal do not become law, Dan, what does that mean for the Biden administration's effort to present itself as a global leader on climate?

CHARLES: It does undermine the credibility of those U.S. claims. You know, at that climate summit, we watched former Secretary of State John Kerry, you know, try to persuade other countries like Russia and China to cut their greenhouse emissions more sharply. And the question came up even then. You know, how can you ask other countries to do things that you can't quite manage to do yourself?

SHAPIRO: You've all been describing reasons that scientists are alarmed and the prospects for policies to address those alarms. Can you leave us with any good news? Are there any bright spots when you look at what's happening on climate change?

BRADY: You know, I think it's important to step back for a minute and just acknowledge how much this country's climate change discussion has changed in the last year. A lot of what we talked about here just wasn't on the table with the last president. And while President Biden doesn't have the sweeping changes he wants yet, he has put climate change on the country's agenda.

SOMMER: And, you know, so many cities in the country know there's more extreme weather on the way. And with that infrastructure package at least, there are billions of dollars specifically for preparing for climate change. You know, that's things like improving water systems, the electric grid or just getting infrastructure ready for extreme weather. You know, a lot of states and cities are eager for those kinds of investments, and they want to get to work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: That was NPR's Lauren Sommer, Jeff Brady and Dan Charles - all part of NPR's climate team. NPR climate and energy editor Jennifer Ludden contributed to this episode and has also written a piece fact-checking Joe Manchin on Build Back Better's climate measures. In fact, a lot of what you heard in this episode came from that story. There's a link to it in our episode notes.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ailsa Chang.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.