Manchin Levels Energy Playing Field. Sort Of.
New proposal by Sen. Joe Manchin slashes the renewable energy subsidy by 80%, extends it to nuclear, and makes renewables leases on federal lands dependent upon oil and gas leases
For the last two weeks, Democrats have hammered Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) as a fossil fuel-funded sell-out for killing proposed climate and energy legislation that he said would have been inflationary. Today, they are lionizing Manchin for rescuing a bill that would be, according to The New York Times, “the most ambitious action ever taken by the United States to try to stop the planet from catastrophically overheating.”
But the legislation also slashes the renewable energy tax credit by 80%, extends it to existing nuclear plants, and prohibits wind and solar development on federal land, or in federal waters, unless oil or gas lease sales have also been issued. As such, the legislation goes a long way toward doing what Manchin has long said he wanted to do, which is to level the playing field between all energy sources.
To be sure, the bill is still tilted toward renewables. It includes tens of billions in tax credits to build solar panels and wind turbines in the US, tens of billions in grants and loan guarantees for renewables, and billions for energy efficiency.
But the bill is far more balanced than its predecessor, Build Back Better. In addition to cutting the tax credit subsidy for wind energy and other renewables by 80%, it phases it out at the end of 2024, and makes all future tax credits technology-neutral. And the legislation does not including tax credits for new transmission lines, many of which could cut through sensitive ecosystems, such as the Nebraska Sandhills, and are required for a significant expansion of renewables.
Moreover, Manchin says President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to also pass, in September, legislation for the permitting of oil and gas infrastructure, which may finally mean the building of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia, which is crucial to the effort to export natural gas to American allies in Europe.
Though I dislike the large land use impacts of solar panels and wind turbines, and the way they increase electricity prices, I would much prefer to see them manufactured in the United States than in China, where they are produced by persecuted Uyghur Muslims with coal; Manchin’s legislation would encourage re-shoring those industries.
What about its impact on climate change? Roger Pielke ran the numbers and found that, even if it achieved Biden’s 50% emissions-reduction target for 2030, which it almost certainly won’t, the impact on overall global emissions would be nearly unmeasurable.
“In fact, that small level of emissions impact is well within both emissions measurement error as well as the large uncertainty in how emissions-policies will evolve to 2030,” notes Pielke.
To be sure, there is much in the bill to dislike, and there are real questions about whether it can pass.