Jun 16, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Senate Democrats start playing their climate cards

Cards with globes on them.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It's the end of the beginning for Democrats' bid to steer climate legislation through the Senate with the narrowest possible majority.

Catch up fast: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday will trigger the next "reconciliation" process — that is, crafting spending and revenue measures immune from Senate filibuster.

  • A senior aide said Schumer wants legislation that puts the U.S. "on track to reduce carbon pollution at a scale commensurate with the climate crisis."

Why it matters: Democrats want to go big, but writing measures that likely need buy-in from their entire caucus to survive is a politically narrow path.

What's next: Schumer meets today with Budget Committee members about a fiscal blueprint that would direct other committees to write policy measures consistent with its goals.

  • The New York Times notes that staff-level work has already begun.

The big picture: The aide said Schumer wants funding for...

  • Clean energy incentives that would cut power sector CO2 emissions by 80% by 2030.
  • Consumer rebates for buying electric cars, which is part of the wider electric vehicles plan Schumer first floated in 2019.
  • Funding to help manufacturers and farmers "be part of the solution to reducing emissions."

The big question: Whether there's an intra-Democratic deal possible in both chambers (the Democrats' House majority is small too).

  • Liberal Democrats say strong climate measures are needed to win their votes.
  • But Schumer needs to keep more conservative Democrats in the fold.

Quick take: Schumer's climate goals didn't explicitly mention a "clean energy standard" — a mandate that utilities supply significantly escalating amounts of zero-carbon power.

  • Many environmentalists and climate-focused Democrats want one, but its omission could signal the steep uphill climb toward gaining 51 votes for it.
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