• Anna Yingst

Biden’s Build Back Better Act: How Methane is Raising Temperatures in Climate and Congress

Updated: Feb 5

The climate crisis has newfound political battles for President Joe Biden involving his Build Back Better act and the Methane Emission Reduction Act of 2021. The proposed methane fee was introduced in the Senate on March 9 and is cosponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). It requires the Secretary of Treasury to levy a fee on methane emissions from oil and natural gas facilities and charge $1,500 per ton of methane emissions above certain thresholds. Biden relayed this among other goals during the 2021 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow on November 1 and 2, amid persistent pushback from key Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Yet, the environmental and political consequences of these divisive proposals supersede that of the U.S., and have the influence to alter the future state of our environment.

Photo Courtesy: Council for Exceptional Children

The key area of discussion has been methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term, a major component of natural gas, and a significant factor in slowing global warming. Methane may enter the atmosphere through natural gas pipelines, landfills, agriculture, and leaks from oil and natural gas wells. In an interview with CNN, the Environmental Defense Funds Jon Goldstein said that, “The fees and rules should be complementary tools...the fee has the ability to augment the regulations by leading to faster and potentially additional reductions.”

Major discourse on Biden's Climate plans began on October 28, when he announced the Build Back Better Act, which was touted as the largest effort to combat climate change in American History. Cumulatively through 2050, the proposed methane fee is responsible for 65% of the act's total industrial greenhouse gas emissions. The announcement follows the rejoining of the Paris Climate Accord and Biden’s renewed efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and advance environmental justice. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the new rule, established under the Clean Air Act, would lead to “significant reductions in methane emissions and other pollutants and would be stricter than a 2016 standard set under President Barack Obama.” The methane fee is projected to create more than 65,000 jobs by 2028, and by 2050, it would be responsible for one third of the jobs created by the Build Back Better Act.

The extensive focus on climate also appears in Biden's sprawling $1.75 trillion spending bill introduced on October 28, compared to his initial $3.5 trillion proposal. The largest chunk of the bill, $550 billion, would pay for tax breaks for electric vehicles and improvements to clean-energy transmission and storage, as well as efforts to make communities more resilient to extreme weather events. Additionally, it promotes lowering costs for the middle class, tax reforms, and expanding access to healthcare. Biden's proposed methane fee is also expected to generate $250 billion a year in government revenue from the oil and gas sector.

Yet, this continuously changing agenda sparked concern amid key democrats in the senate, who are essential in the bill's success in the Senate. Most notably is Democrat Joe Manchin, who told reporters on November 1, “As more of the real details outlined in the basic framework are released, what I see are shell games, budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the so-called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be twice that amount, if the full time is run out, if you extended it permanently. And that we have not even spoken about. This is a recipe for an economic crisis."

In a news release on October 15, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt also expressed specific concerns regarding the methane fee, saying that “Congress should reject a Biden administration proposal to place a “fee” on methane emissions from oil and natural gas producers because it will have a devastating effect on the nation’s energy supply and further burden consumer budgets already reeling from rising energy prices.” Schmidt is a part of a coalition of 19 Attorney Generals who sent a letter urging congress to reject the proposed fee, using data that indicates a $14.4 billion potential cost in its passing.

Amid pushback and uncertainty in the senate, Biden attended the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow on November 1 and 2, focusing heavily on potent methane emissions and his proposed agenda. He announced new U.S. regulations from the EPA that would “push oil and gas companies to more accurately detect, monitor and repair methane leaks from new and existing wells, pipelines and other equipment. The agency estimates the rule would cut 41 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035.” He also included a global methane pledge that aims to slash emissions 30% by the end of the decade, which has been signed by about 100 countries.

In his closing remarks at the Climate Summit, Biden stated that "This isn't just something we have to do to protect the environment and our future, it's an enormous opportunity for all our nations to create jobs and make meeting climate goals a core part of our global economic recovery as well."

The enduring climate battle, Senate pushback, and newly proposed legislation drive the impending clash on Capitol Hill over Biden's radical spending plan and methane fee. The effect on the U.S. and global economy, spending, jobs, and the environment in passing this legislation is monumentally crucial and can impact the world's climate for decades to come. As extreme weather events and sea levels rise to uncharted territories, so do activists and researchers in their pursuit of affordable solutions and increased awareness of countries inextricable link to the environment's plight. The U.S. now faces a pivotal decision in securing a stable environment for the future, since "Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink...either we stop it — or it stops us. It’s time to say: enough."