Business & Lobbying

Business groups rally around green infrastructure plans

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Business groups are ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to move forward on infrastructure and arguing that a climate change component is critical to their members.

The growing consensus among business leaders is that an infrastructure package should tackle green initiatives, but executives say they’re leaving it to Congress and the White House to determine the provisions and overall price tag.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said infrastructure, along with technology-focused legislation, will be the next priorities for congressional Democrats following the passage of COVID-19 relief. He indicated that climate change proposals will play a key role in the package, making it a harder sell with Republicans.

Democrats are hoping that momentum and support from major corporations will help put pressure on Republicans in Congress.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with more than a hundred local chambers and the Bipartisan Policy Center, urged Congress last week to “enact a fiscally and environmentally responsible infrastructure package.”

“As a nation we must be able to build big things quickly to accelerate the economic recovery and build the resilient low-carbon economy of the future,” the groups wrote.

The Chamber is calling for the legislation before July 4, saying that in addition to climate provisions the measure needs to create middle-class jobs, improve federal project approvals and address the digital divide.

More recently, manufacturing company Siemens USA called on Congress this week to go big on infrastructure.

“Promoting U.S. leadership in emerging technologies and unlocking private capital will accelerate progress on infrastructure and help us move the country forward: rebuilding our economy, creating jobs, tackling climate change, raising U.S. competitiveness and answering the call for racial justice,” CEO Barbara Humpton wrote in an open letter.

Humpton said achieving those goals includes steps toward a decarbonized power grid that’s more resilient to severe weather, a key concern following massive power outages during this month’s winter storm in Texas.

“Consider New York’s Javits Center, which installed rooftop solar panels offsetting 1.3 million pounds of carbon. Seventy percent of U.S. businesses will generate energy savings by investing in similar projects,” she wrote, adding that only a small fraction of commercial buildings doing this would generate enough renewable capacity to power over half of America’s homes.

Biden’s Build Back Better plan includes building 1.5 million new sustainable homes, as well as zero-emissions public transportation in major U.S. cities and a power sector that is carbon pollution free by 2035.

The White House has eyed prioritizing an infrastructure package after COVID-19 relief, as well as hot-button issues like immigration and gun control legislation. The most likely area for bipartisan agreement, though, is on infrastructure, where lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want to see action.

But infrastructure isn’t without its divisive issues, namely the high cost and inclusion of climate change initiatives.

Infrastructure was considered a priority for the Trump administration, but no deal ever materialized over four years, leading in many ways to pent up demand on both sides of the aisle to move forward on the issue in 2021.

Biden met with lawmakers earlier this month to gauge GOP support, though it’s largely understood that it will be difficult to garner broad bipartisan backing given Republican concerns about the rising deficit, which will increase further if Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package is signed into law.

For that reason, infrastructure could be the second bill, following the COVID-19 relief package, that Democrats try to pass through the budget reconciliation process that lets them sidestep a legislative filibuster.

While business groups are largely in agreement that Biden’s plan to modernize infrastructure will help promote renewable energy, the president is getting pressure from trade groups to not raise taxes as a funding mechanism for infrastructure.

Biden campaigned on increasing the corporate tax rate, but administration officials have signaled there are no immediate plans to take that step.

The Business Roundtable, which represents corporate CEOs, recently warned against increasing corporate taxes to fund investments in infrastructure.

“We may think well, for stimulus purposes, we don’t want to pay for everything; we just want to inject some money into the economy. That’s not an unreasonable position in the short term coming out of a recession as we are right now, but it would not be a way to set us up for long-term success. And it would be a really terrible shame if Congress fails to address the long-term funding and financing issues for our nation’s infrastructure when they do this package,” said Matt Sonnesyn, the trade group’s vice president of infrastructure, energy and environment.

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