Appalachian climate advocates and West Virginia’s congressional delegation aren’t on the same page on the sweeping climate and social spending bill the U.S. House of Representatives approved Friday.
“We are truly right on the cusp of doing something transformational for the planet we’re leaving our kids, for working families, and for communities that have given so much to the nation,” Tom Cormons, executive director of the environmental group Appalachian Voices and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, said in a statement upon the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passage of the bill mostly along party lines.
“This bill is a pivotal step toward securing West Virginia’s place in the transition to a 21st-century energy economy,” Leah Barbor, West Virginia program director with Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit association of solar owners and supporters, said in a statement Friday.
But the bill, which would spend $1.85 trillion over 10 years on strengthening the nation’s social safety net and investing in a clean energy economy, faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where key holdout vote Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W.Va., and sworn opponent of the legislation Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., await.
Manchin’s office declined comment Sunday on the House’s passage of the spending plan, branded as the Build Back Better bill by the White House.
Capito called the bill “reckless” in a statement Friday, arguing the nation’s inflation makes this an especially ill-advised time to spend on what she called a “liberal policy wish list.”
The bill is likely to undergo changes in the Senate.
But the bill’s proponents say the legislation as approved by the House would not only reduce inflation, but support and create millions of jobs nationwide.
Climate advocates say the bill is the nation’s best chance to navigate an energy transition to make the immediate and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions scientists say are needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
The Build Back Better bill includes $550 billion in climate and clean energy spending. The legislation would provide $3 billion in funding for environmental and climate justice block grants.
The proposal would allot $500 million for the Department of Energy to provide funding to states for resiliency, energy efficiency, renewable energy and grid integration improvements at public and nonprofit buildings.
The Build Back Better bill would appropriate $360 million for contractor training grants to support home energy efficiency retrofits and $5.89 billion for state energy offices to provide rebates for retrofits.
The legislation would invest $2 billion in state, local and nonprofit efforts to install zero-emission vehicle charging or fueling infrastructure, and provide $9 billion for lead remediation projects, including lead service line replacement funding.
It would also set aside $133 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration for enforcement and technical assistance.
The BlueGreen Alliance, a national alliance of labor unions and environmental groups, has touted the bill’s broad investments in clean energy tax credits, including an electric vehicle tax credit the alliance predicts will lower the cost of buying electric vehicles and quicken the deployment of such vehicles made in America by union workers.
But Manchin and Capito have objected to the bill’s $4,500 tax credit for electric vehicles made at union facilities, a supplement to other tax credits for the vehicles.
Manchin argued the tax incentive was “using everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers” during a visit to the Toyota plant in Buffalo earlier this month. Toyota opposes that provision of the bill.
Solar United Neighbors has hailed a Build Back Better bill provision that would extend a solar investment tax credit the group called in a statement “the single most crucial incentive available to people that want to go solar.”
Appalachian Voices has applauded the bill for extending the excise tax on coal production powering the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund for four years. That fund expires at the end of 2021.
No longer included in the bill is the Clean Electricity Performance Program, the direct pay incentive experts say was the Build Back Better framework’s most vital climate provision.
The $150 billion program would have authorized grants for electricity providers that increase clean electricity use by 4% or more annually from 2023 through 2030, and penalties for those that don’t.
Manchin questioned the program’s usefulness, and said it would have imposed an unrealistic time frame for encouraging electric utilities to transition to clean energy.
Manchin has made $4.35 million since 2012 from stock he owns in Enersystems Inc., the Fairmont-based coal brokerage he founded in 1988, according to his U.S. Senate financial disclosures. He has denied his vested coal interests have influenced his policymaking that affects the coal industry. But he has declined to divest his holdings, saying his ownership is held in a blind trust and, therefore, avoids a conflict of interest.
The Carbon Capture Coalition, a nonpartisan collaboration of more than 80 businesses and organizations supporting economywide deployment of carbon capture, announced its support for the framework, noting that it would significantly boost tax credit values to accelerate deployment.
Carbon capture, use and storage technology gathers and compresses carbon from emission sources for reuse or underground storage so it will not reenter the atmosphere.
Such technology is not yet proven at a commercial scale. But Manchin and West Virginia’s other congressional delegates have championed the technology, which has been viewed as a way to keep coal in the energy mix.
West Virginia’s three House members, all Republicans — Rep. David McKinley, Rep. Carol Miller and Rep. Alex Mooney — all voted against the bill, balking at its price tag and noting estimates it will raise the national debt.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would add $367.1 billion to the deficit over 10 years. That doesn’t include revenue the bill will collect from enhanced tax enforcement — a figure the office projected would reduce the deficit $127 billion. The Biden administration has predicted the collection figure will be roughly $400 billion.
McKinley, Mooney and Capito voted in 2017 for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a tax reform bill the Congressional Budget Office estimated then would swell the deficit by $1.4 trillion over 10 years. Miller served in the House of Delegates at the time.
“They voted against jobs, plain and simple,” Dan Taylor, Appalachia regional field organizer for the BlueGreen Alliance, said of West Virginia’s House members’ tallies against the bill Friday.
Taylor echoed the BlueGreen Alliance’s stance the bill would create or sustain hundreds of thousands of long-term jobs at thousands of factories established, expanded or retooled with the federal support.
“We hope and expect Senator Manchin to be a leader on getting these investments done in the Senate,” Taylor said.