In what has become a saga of uncertainty on infrastructure worthy of a plot line for a television soap opera, a bipartisan group of 21 U.S. senators unveiled the framework last week for a potential deal.
In some ways, that’s encouraging. We need our leaders in Washington to push past partisan gridlock and move us forward in a way that brings the American people back together. Environment America and U.S. PIRG, where each of us works, have been urging that approach since the election and its aftermath revealed just how divided Americans are. A major infrastructure investment bill is a great opportunity to do that, but it would be a big mistake to leave out good, bipartisan provisions.
The proposed framework includes $579 billion in new spending to rebuild America’s roads and bridges, improve public transit systems, invest in broadband infrastructure and upgrade our airports. Much of this is good and necessary. But it leaves out some of the critical, and very popular, provisions from President Joe BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE’s proposal that would help tackle the climate crisis. Notably, the bipartisan framework does not include clean energy tax incentives to spur the innovation and adoption of wind and solar power, efficiency, storage and electric vehicles.
In the American Jobs Plan, Biden proposed extending tax incentives in these key areas for 10 years. We know these incentives work. Over the past decade tax incentives have helped lower the cost of wind and solar power, making renewables more cost competitive with fossil fuels and spurring the renewable energy market. But the current incentives will expire over the next few years. We shouldn’t pull the rug out just as the market is hitting its stride. The infrastructure bill is an opportunity that can’t be missed that would update and extend the incentives.
What’s more, including clean energy incentives would allow the bipartisan group of senators to put forth a plan that will garner wide support among the American public. According to one 2019 poll, 89 percent of voters, with majorities across party lines, supported extending clean energy tax incentives. More recently, polling found that 62 percent of voters agree lawmakers should keep ambitious climate and clean energy investment, including these tax incentives, in the American Jobs Plan. The support also spanned party lines, with 44 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of independents voicing support. That’s why we included them in our list of 12 policies with transpartisan appeal that Congress and the Biden administration should pursue this year.
And let’s not forget that global warming is the most important challenge of our time. With heat waves, droughts and wildfires picking up throughout the country, we’re feeling the impacts right now. The infrastructure we build today will continue to shape America for generations to come — and will determine if we’re able to preserve a livable future. Biden’s plan would change the way we incentivize our energy infrastructure by extending clean energy credits and ending tax preferences for fossil fuel projects (another decision that polling shows would be widely embraced by the American public). In contrast, the current bipartisan framework would continue the status quo, leaving the fossil fuel preferences in place while failing to extend the clean energy incentives. This is a recipe for a climate disaster. Any infrastructure plan that doubles down on fossil fuels should be a non-starter.
We’ve been at the infrastructure drawing board for a long time, but if this is the framework that’s going to get traction in Congress, negotiators better take their pens back out. Because a bipartisan deal that leaves out clean energy policies that enjoy broad-based public support isn't going to cut it.
Lisa Frank is the executive director of the Washington Legislative Office for Environment America.
Matt Casale is U.S. PIRG’s environment campaigns director.