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San Diego clean energy experts give Senate climate deal mixed reviews

The surprise compromise is getting a critical review as details of the more-than-700-page bill trickle out.

San Diego climate watchers say there are both things to like and dislike in the deal reached this week between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

The bill, hammered out behind closed doors, calls for $369 billion in federal spending — the most ever directed toward the planet’s climate crisis.

The bill’s centerpiece is a goal to cut the nation’s carbon emissions by 40%. It would be the first time the U.S. government codified a specific carbon reduction goal.

The bill incentivizes wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, and makes it cheaper to buy electric vehicles. It also creates financial incentives to plug methane gas leaks.

Another key aspect of the measure is a groundbreaking $60 billion for dealing with pollution in historically marginalized communities, including neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan, San Ysidro and National City.

“It’s not where we need to be, but it’s much further along than we have been,” said Masada Disenhouse, of San Diego 350, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

If passed, Disenhouse said the measure would be significant and allow the U.S. to engage the rest of the world on climate change.

However, the action falls short of President Joe Biden’s commitment to climate action, Disenhouse said, and it does not cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

And the measure includes large carve outs for Big Oil, including new oil and gas leasing on more than 620 million acres of public land.

“It’s very far from perfect,” Disenhouse said. “It has some really insidious parts like subsidies for expanding the extraction of oil and gas. And for the false climate solutions being pushed by the fossil fuel industry.”

Those include hydrogen and carbon capture technology that will allow fossil fuel companies to continue to extract and burn oil and natural gas.

And there is no guarantee that the carbon-reduction goals would be met.

“These numbers are always a little bit squishy," said David Victor, a UC San Diego energy analyst. "Because figuring out the actual reduction in emissions requires knowing how these policies will be implemented. We don’t know that yet."

But, he said, it is notable that a deal was reached at all, especially considering the pressures politicians are feeling to do something about high fuel prices.

Victor said that should temper expectations.

"We’ve waited for decades now to get serious about the climate problem, and we can’t do a huge amount very quickly," he said, "especially in the context of the energy crisis that we’re in, where there’s a huge amount of political pressure to increase conventional fossil fuel production."

The agreement raises an estimated $755 billion from a 15% minimum corporate tax, by closing some tax loopholes and by giving the Internal Revenue Service funds to find tax cheats.

About $300 billion will be spent directly on deficit reduction. There are also provisions to fund health care subsidies and to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

San Diego clean energy experts give Senate climate deal mixed reviews