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Congress May Soon Pass The Country's Most Significant Climate Change Legislation Ever


Congress may be on the verge of passing the country's most significant climate change legislation ever. But it will have to overcome some powerful opposition first, some of it within the Democratic Party. NPR's Jeff Brady reports that a huge budget package includes measures aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Environmentalists are getting excited.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: After decades of big pollution liars, climate change deniers and out-of-control fires, we are almost there.

BRADY: This ad from Climate Power is airing on Washington, D.C., television.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Congress, our window to act is closing. And once it does, it may never open again.

BRADY: Details are still emerging for climate elements of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package Democrats are writing now. Sam Krasnow, with Natural Resources Defense Council, says he's encouraged by the clean energy provisions.

SAM KRASNOW: It will get us to 80% clean by 2030, on the path to 100% clean by 2035.

BRADY: There's a $150 billion clean electricity performance program. It would pay utilities to switch from greenhouse gas-emitting power sources like coal and natural gas to non-emitting sources like wind, solar, nuclear and hydro power. Utilities that convert 4% of their generation to cleaner sources each year over the next decade would get a bonus. That money could not go to profits. It would have to benefit customers, utility employees or go to building more clean power plants. And Krasnow says utilities that do not meet the annual target would face penalties.

KRASNOW: There's a payment that utilities will have to make to the government if they fail to keep up with that clean energy ramp-up rate.

BRADY: Democrats also want tens of billions of dollars in clean energy tax credits. On top of that, 13.5 billion for more electric vehicle charging stations and to convert trucks to electric power. There's also a fee on methane or natural gas, but that's a big concern for oil and gas companies.

ANNE BRADBURY: Our industry feels like it's under attack in this bill.

BRADY: Anne Bradbury is CEO of the American Exploration & Production Council. She's among those in the oil industry opposing the climate elements of the Democrats' budget package.

BRADBURY: They are rushing bad policy in an enormous bill that very few people are actually going to read and will not have the appropriate time for the American public or even lawmakers to fully digest the impact.

BRADY: The industry has allies among the few Democrats in Congress. That's important because in the Senate, every Democrat must vote for the budget bill or it won't pass. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has ties to the coal industry, and he told CNN he wouldn't vote for the package. He says utilities already are moving away from coal.


JOE MANCHIN: Now they're wanting to pay companies to do what they're already doing. It makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they're going to do as the market transitions.

BRADY: But scientists say that shift must happen faster to avoid the worst effects of climate change. And this summer's climate-fueled hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires are prompting even some Republicans to say more needs to be done. This legislation is designed to meet the obligations the U.S. made under the Paris Climate Agreement. For the Biden administration, it's important to have the measures in place before a meeting with other countries in Glasgow in November. That means this week is crunch time, says Tiernan Sittenfeld with the League of Conservation Voters. Her group sent a letter last week to Democratic lawmakers.

TIERNAN SITTENFELD: That we would only be considering endorsements for members of Congress who support climate provisions.

BRADY: Sittenfeld and other environmentalists say they are watching and hoping those measures won't get watered down as negotiations continue.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.