WASHINGTON — Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who began her political career with the Green Party and who has voiced alarm over the warming planet, wants to cut at least $100 billion from climate programs in major legislation pending on Capitol Hill, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Sinema is one of two centrist Democrats in the Senate whose votes are crucial to passing two bills that together would comprise President Biden’s legislative agenda: a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a separate $3.5 trillion budget bill.
Last month, Ms. Sinema told The Arizona Republic, “We know that a changing climate costs Arizonans. And right now, we have the opportunity to pass smart policies to address it — looking forward to that.” In her 2018 run for the Senate, Ms. Sinema was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters. And she has expressed an interest in using the spending bill to enact a tax or fee on carbon dioxide pollution, which experts say could be among the most effective ways to mitigate global warming.
But Ms. Sinema’s demand to cut spending on climate provisions in the budget bill could force Democrats to cut or shrink programs designed to help poor communities adapt to climate change as well as to help companies adjust as the economy transitions away from fossil fuels to clean energy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted in a letter to colleagues this week that the climate programs would remain. “The climate crisis is a health issue, jobs issue, national security issue and a moral issue to pass the planet on to future generations in a responsible way,” Ms. Pelosi wrote. “This challenge must be addressed with justice for vulnerable communities, who have been hit first and hardest by the climate crisis.”
A spokesman for Ms. Sinema, John LaBombard, forcefully denied that Ms. Sinema requested the cuts. “Neither Senator Sinema nor our office have requested or demanded such cuts, nor have we even heard of any such demands,” he wrote in an email.
The people familiar with her request, who asked to speak anonymously because they were not authorized to speak on the record, said that she had asked for a cut to the climate program as part of a larger effort by Democrats to hunt for ways to lower the price tag of the broader spending legislation. Mr. Biden had initially envisioned a spending package of about $3.5 trillion, but Democrats are now trying to cut that to $2 trillion, in order to win support from Ms. Sinema and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, without whose votes the measure will not pass.
As Democrats try to slice $1.5 trillion from the overall bill, party leaders have vowed to protect at least two major climate change programs, which together total about $450 billion.
The first, a $150 billion proposal known as the Clean Electricity Program, would reward electric utilities that switch from burning fossil fuels to wind, solar or nuclear power, and penalize companies that don’t. The second is a…