President Joe Biden delivers remarks on tackling climate change prior to signing executive actions as White House climate envoy John Kerry and Vice President Kamala Harris listen in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2021.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
President Joe Biden this week is set to unveil details of a major infrastructure package that’s expected to include record spending on mitigating climate change and accelerating a nationwide transition to clean energy.
The president is expected to introduce up to $3 trillion in spending on efforts to boost the economy, including rebuilding aging infrastructure like highways, bridges and rail lines, and investing in technologies to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of the policies on the table include:
- Installing thousands of new electric vehicle charging stations
- Funds to build energy-efficient homes
- Constructing new electric power lines
The package may be split between two bills, starting with legislation that incorporates Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and supports his goal to achieve carbon-free power generation by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
The recovery plan will potentially involve installing thousands of electric vehicle charging stations and providing incentives to encourage Americans to purchase electric vehicles.
As a candidate, Biden vowed to establish ambitious fuel economy standards for gasoline cars to encourage a shift to electric vehicles. The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of U.S. emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and could be the most difficult to decarbonize.
The package also is primed to include funding to build millions of new energy-efficient homes and retrofit existing buildings to increase efficiency. There’s money to construct electric power lines that provide renewable energy and expand electricity storage.
Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate advisor now with the Progressive Policy Institute, said Biden’s goal is to jumpstart the economy and create new jobs during the transition away from fossil fuels.
“Electrifying America’s cars and trucks, creating a nationwide smart grid, expanding electricity storage to allow more renewable energy, establishing universal high speed internet — all of these are intended to boost the productivity and competitiveness of the economy, while also cutting emissions,” Bledsoe said.
Loading low-carbon energy initiatives into an infrastructure bill will likely be more divisive in Congress than previous Covid stimulus legislation. The last major push to pass climate legislation through the Senate was in 2009, when congressional Democrats failed to pass a carbon-pricing system.
Some Democrats and climate activists fear that another failure to pass meaningful climate legislation amid concerns that a clean energy transition will cost jobs.
Some Republicans who opposed Biden’s pandemic relief package have also condemned the president’s goal to incorporate climate policy into infrastructure legislation.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., the top Republican on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said he’ll work with Democrats on infrastructure but that prioritizing climate issues would not receive GOP support.
“A transportation bill needs to be a transportation bill, not a Green New Deal,” Graves said during a hearing Thursday. “It needs to be about roads and bridges.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she’ll support a bipartisan bill but will not eliminate components addressing climate change due to Republican objections.
“We cannot just settle for what we can agree on without recognizing that this has to be a bill for the future, that we have to recognize the climate crisis,” Pelosi told reporters.
Biden has argued that his actions on climate will create millions of jobs. The president has already issued a series of climate executive orders, including suspending new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and rejoining the U.S. into the Paris climate accord.
The administration is leaning toward pursuing the bipartisan infrastructure legislation and passing other components through budget reconciliation, which would require only Senate Democrats to vote.
“To gain the broadest support in Congress, Biden must emphasize the economic and jobs benefits of these investments first and foremost, not simply the climate benefits,” Bledsoe said.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, director for policy and partnerships at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the administration’s infrastructure proposal so far is “clearly focused on the right problems.”
“Making these investments will create millions of good, American jobs and help us address the legacy of racial injustice,” Jenkins said.
“Given the ambitions from the Biden administration and the commitment from key congressional leaders, we now have a historic opportunity to rebuild our economy for a cleaner, brighter future,” Jenkins added. “We are confident that Congress can achieve these goals.”