Back in September, we identified the Biden administration’s economic policy bill, Build Back Better, as “Congress’ last, best chance to make meaningful climate action.”

On Sunday, that hope crumbled when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced he was a “no” vote on the package, which would have included $550 billion to speed the transition from fossil fuels to a carbon-free economy by mid-century.

Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote in the Senate, so even one defection would be fatal. Manchin was a key architect of the climate portion of the bill, making his rejection of the plan even more depressing.

Assuming that he is not coming back to the negotiating table, the country has to figure out how to move forward without sweeping legislation. The last time Congress tried and failed to pass a climate strategy bill was in 2010. We don’t have another decade to wait for them to try again.

There are steps that President Biden can take on his own to apply the power of the federal government to the climate fight. He has taken some steps already.

The federal government is a huge consumer of energy and owns a fleet of 645,000 vehicles. Biden has pledged to stop buying gas-powered cars by 2035, which will create demand for electric cars and trucks, bringing their prices down.

Biden should also use the power of federal agencies to promulgate regulations that will move utilities and industry toward renewable energy, although without the tax credits in Build Back Better, that could make energy more expensive for consumers.

If Congress can act only in the aftermath of a destructive storm or forest fire, states and regions can set tougher climate goals and industry can look for ways to voluntarily reduce emissions.

It’s also important to look at our dysfunctional politics that have again been exposed by the failure to respond to a clear threat to our the world’s security.

Why is one Democrat like Manchin, who reports making $4.5 million off his coal investments during his time in the Senate, so crucial on this issue? Because the national Republican Party has made climate denial an article of faith. Although individual Republicans claim to be concerned about climate change and Republican governors are taking action on the state level, the party is missing in action in Washington.

Manchin’s vote is necessary because there are 50 Republicans in the Senate, and none of them will vote for climate measures like the ones in Build Back Better.

The Republicans not only oppose the legislation but also will use their power to block it from coming to the floor for debate. That’s why it has to be packaged with other Democratic priorities in a single budget bill that, under Senate rules, can pass without Republican obstruction.

Since he is the lone Democrat trying to kill this bill, it’s easy to see Manchin as a villain. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the 50 Republican senators who would rather see the Democrats fail than do what’s necessary to limit a global catastrophe.

If the Biden plan is really dead, we should demand that Republicans work with their colleagues and offer their ideas about how to eliminate carbon emissions in time to make a difference.

Congress may have given up its best chance, but the world doesn’t have time for anyone to give up hope.


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