At the same time, the plunging cost of natural gas and renewable energy has weakened the coal industry. Environmentalists forged alliances with groups they had previously sparred with, like unions and farmers. They began to talk about climate change not only as a threat to polar bears and coastlines, but also as an opportunity for the United States to develop a new economy untethered to fossil fuels.
“The movement had to mature,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii who fought back tears immediately after Sunday’s vote. “There’s plenty to catastrophize about, but that was no way to build political momentum. We started to try to answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me if we take climate action’ as a farmer, a surfer, a blue collar union worker.”
President Biden took that cue, equating climate action with jobs when he won the White House in 2020, partly with help from a record turnout of young, climate-minded voters.
But Joe Manchin III, the Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia and a crucial swing vote in an evenly divided Senate, would determine the limits of what was possible.
As Democrats sought to advance a broad spending bill that would include climate provisions, . senators took one last stab at putting a price on carbon. They tried to include a measure that would have rewarded electric utilities that replaced fossil fuels with clean sources of energy and penalized those that did not. That provision would have enabled the United States to meet Mr. Biden’s long-term climate goals, and rapidly transform the nation’s energy sector.
Mr. Manchin rejected the plan.
“Sticks weren’t working,” said Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who leads the Senate Finance Committee. “That was the lesson.”