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Biden's climate change plan stalls after Manchin opposes Build Back Better

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

President Biden campaigned on the most ambitious climate change plan of any candidate ever elected to the White House. Now it's all in doubt after West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin blocked Biden's major climate bill. NPR's Jeff Brady looks at what happens next.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Among his first acts as President, Joe Biden brought the United States back under the Paris climate agreement, and throughout the year, he delivered many speeches about his climate agenda.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I've set a course for the United States to achieve 50% to 52% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030.

BRADY: That's on the way to net-zero emissions by 2050. Those goals meet targets under the Paris Agreement and require a lot of change across the country's energy system. Biden has used the word crisis when talking about climate change and says that's why his agenda is ambitious.

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BIDEN: The goals are different because the necessity is there. We don't have a lot of time. We don't have much more than 10 years - for real. And this is a decisive decade.

BRADY: When Biden delivered this speech in Colorado in September, Democrats were finishing the budget bill with a new clean electricity performance program. It would have paid utilities to transition to more climate-friendly energy and penalize them if they didn't. It was an exciting time for climate advocates, who paid for television ads like this one in Washington, D.C.

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

BRADY: But Democrats faced opposition from within their own party. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has financial interests in his family's coal company. In September, he told NBC's "Meet The Press" that coal-fired electricity had already declined by more than half over two decades.

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JOE MANCHIN: The transition's happening. And that clean energy standard, they want to spend billions of dollars to have utilities do what they're already doing.

BRADY: Manchin's opposition killed that clean electricity program. But even that and other compromises weren't enough to win his support. Meantime, another challenge emerged for the president - gasoline prices started to rise this fall, contributing to inflation worries. Last week, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm addressed the National Petroleum Council and encouraged oil companies to get more drilling rigs out into the field to bring prices back down.

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JENNIFER GRANHOLM: Please, take advantage of the leases that you have, hire workers, get your rig count up.

BRADY: Granholm has been one of the administration's loudest voices promoting the president's climate agenda, so messages like this leave climate activists frustrated.

LENNOX YEARWOOD JR: It seems like it's one day hot in regards to fighting the climate crisis and one day cold.

BRADY: Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. heads Hip Hop Caucus, which was an early supporter of the Green New Deal. He hopes the climate elements of the budget bill will still somehow pass Congress. In any case, he says, the country is doing more to address climate change now than just a year ago.

YEARWOOD: Clearly, from the last administration to now, great strides. But unfortunately, the science is the science, and so we have - they have to just do more.

BRADY: More to avoid the worst effects of climate change. A day after Senator Manchin made his announcement, the EPA set much tougher gas mileage standards for new cars. More climate rules are planned next year, including stricter limits on power plants and methane emissions from the oil industry. But these executive actions won't have as much effect as a new law, and they could be overturned by a future president.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "BLUE DREAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.