The news comes as a blow to US government efforts to combat the climate crisis
Late on Thursday, the Washington Post reported that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin had told his Democratic colleagues that he wasn’t in favour of including climate funds in a proposed spending bill.
In a radio interview with a West Virginia station on Friday, Mr Manchin appeared to rebut some of that reporting however, stating that he wanted to wait on these provisions until after seeing inflation numbers for July.
In response to the news, many environmental groups issued dismayed criticisms of the senator — and even after Mr Manchin’s interview on Friday, some groups told The Independent that they would stand by their comments until they saw indication that he was actively working toward climate legislation.
Senator Manchin’s support, as a more conservative Democrat in the party’s extremely narrow majority, is key to many of the Democratic Party’s legislative hopes.
“Once again, Joe Manchin is putting polluter profits ahead of the health and wellbeing of the American people, especially for communities that have long been hit hardest by the devastation of pollution, climate change, and lack of investments in our future,” Melinda Pierce, from the non-profit Sierra Club, said in a press release responding the initial news.
A Sierra Club representative told The Independent that they will stand by this statement without an indication of further action from the Senator.
Other groups had pointed barbs as well. “When the floods come, I hope they carry away his yacht first,” a statement from Greenpeace USA’s Ashley Thomson said in response to the initial news, referring to Mr Manchin.
“President Biden has no more excuses. He must start using his executive powers to full effect if we’re going to make any progress in preventing the worst climate disasters in our country.”
A representative from that non-profit also told The Independent that they will stand by that statement until they see further action from Senator Manchin.
The most recent talks among senators regarding climate and the spending package are somewhat of a revival of discussions surrounding a much broader proposal last fall dubbed the “Build Back Better” bill.
Brett Hartl from the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity told The Independent that he didn’t believe Senator Manchin would eventually put the $500bn funding for climate that was reportedly included in that initial proposal back on the table.
“I think he killed the bill yesterday,” Mr Hartl said.
Other groups had issued statements criticizing Congressional inaction on climate after both Thursday’s initial reporting and Senator Manchin’s Friday interview.
“Inaction today wastes time we don’t have,” said Johanna Chao Kreilick from the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement. “Delay increases the costs of reducing emissions and the toll that climate change takes.”
Ms Kreilick also noted the general lack of support for these climate provisions among Republican members of the Senate.
“The Senate – specifically the short-sighted senator from West Virginia and all the Republican members who have refused to act – must pull their heads out of the sand and protect their constituents, not to mention all of our children and grandchildren,” she added.
“It is a sad state of affairs that 51 members of the Senate are more focused on constructing roadblocks than building the engines of clean economic growth for the 21st century,” Dr Lashoff said in a statement.
“But this deal is too important to give up on. Senators must stay at the table — all summer if necessary — and seize the opportunity to rein in price volatility, create good-quality American jobs and combat the climate crisis by rapidly transitioning to clean energy.”
The Independent has reached out to a representative for Senator Manchin for comment.
In response to the initial reporting, a spokesperson for Mr Manchin told the Post: “Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation soars to 9.1 percent.”
“Senator Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, reevaluate and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire,” they added.
Without Congressional action, President Biden may be limited in how much he can respond to the climate crisis — especially after last month’s Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v EPA, which decreased the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet there may be some actions the President can take more unilaterally. The Center Biological Diversity’s initial statement reacting to Thursday’s news called on Mr Biden to do things like declare a national emergency on the climate and end oil and gas drilling on federal land.
They also asked the President to use powers granted to him under the Defense Production Act — a Korean War-era law that allows the President to spur production in various industries — to build out sustainable transportation infrastructure like high-speed rail.
A recent report found that while the US is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade, it is falling short of the progress needed to achieve Mr Biden’s goals for that time period.
The country is set to reduce emissions by 24-35 per cent in that time, while the goal was to reach 50 per cent reductions from 2005 levels.
Scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading global authority on the climate crisis, have warned that drastic emissions cuts must start happening by 2025 to avoid disastrous planetary warming.