Infrastructure deal: Major climate win that tees up more in reconciliation bill

Getty Images

Some far-left environmental activists are criticizing the bipartisan infrastructure deal that President Biden has reached with senators of both parties. In fact, the bipartisan bill contains a series of unprecedented, major climate change and clean energy provisions, including tens of billions in funding for electric vehicles and clean energy transmission infrastructure, as well as key provisions to cut emissions from oil and gas wells and coal mines.

As such, the deal represents a huge win for Biden’s climate proposals. Even so, the president himself has signaled this is just the beginning of his clean energy efforts, which he has made clear he intends to increase significantly in budget reconciliation legislation later this year.

The bipartisan bill will allocate $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure, a huge down payment on his plan to deploy half a million EV charging stations around the country, accounting for about half of the president’s initial proposal.

The infrastructure deal also will appropriate $73 billion to upgrade the U.S. electric power grid, including increasing its ability to carry much larger amounts of renewable energy, while improving the grid’s reliability and resilience to extreme weather disruptions increased by climate change.

Another major Biden climate priority included in the measure is a unique proposal to cap and plug greenhouse gas emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells, and also from old coal mines. This funding will not only significantly reduce U.S. emissions of potent methane and carbon dioxide, but it will also employ tens of thousands of workers to do so.

The bill also contains massive funding increases to improve the provision of clean drinking water to hundreds of communities around the country. And it includes billions in appropriations to deliver high-speed internet to American households in both rural and urban areas, increasing economic productivity and access to jobs for millions of Americans while reducing emissions from commuting. Finally, the deal will provide nearly $50 billion for climate “resiliency” to help Americans adapt to climate change impacts that are already occurring, including along U.S. coastline, in-land flooding, wildfires, more severe storms and other impacts.

Taken together, the deal will be the largest infrastructure investment in a century and among the largest-ever investments in clean energy and climate protection. Yet, as the president said of the deal Thursday, “there are other things on the environment I want to get done.”

The mainstay of these remaining climate and clean energy items is an unprecedented set of hundreds of billions of dollars in clean tax incentives proposed by the president to spur the largest private sector investment in clean energy in U.S. and indeed world history. Already, the Senate Finance Committee has passed a $260 billion package of clean energy tax credits, by far the largest ever considered. It includes consumer tax credits of up to $10,000 for Americans who purchase electric vehicles costing less than $80,000. It also includes ten-year investment tax credits and production tax credits for dozens of clean energy electricity sources, including wind, solar, geothermal and many others. This bill will form the basis of clean energy legislation that Democratic leaders in the Senate have begun to put together.

As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said repeatedly in recent days “We can’t get the bipartisan bill done unless we’re sure of getting the budget reconciliation bill done. We can’t get the budget reconciliation bill done unless we’re sure to get the bipartisan [bill] — and I think our members, across the spectrum, realize that.” In this sense, advocates should recognize that gaining the bipartisan deal increases the chances of a successful budget reconciliation outcome.

The White House also reiterated that the president “remains committed to his full legislative agenda – including … additional investments in clean energy – and will work with members of Congress on drafting and passing a budget resolution that enacts his legislative priorities.”

This means that Biden fully intends to pursue additional, robust clean energy and climate provisions through reconciliation legislation. It remains to be seen if a “clean energy standard” requiring utilities to use larger amounts of carbon-free power will be part of any reconciliation package, as it may face procedural hurdles. While some Democrats have expressed reservations about the standard, it is certain more liberal climate advocates in the Senate will attempt to put the measure to a vote.

All in all, the bipartisan infrastructure deal represents a huge down payment on the Biden climate and clean energy promise. Moreover, the president and Senate Democratic leaders have indicated they are determined to get even more significant clean energy and climate provisions in reconciliation legislation later this year. Climate advocates should recognize this huge first step in U.S. climate action, while continuing to press the president and the Congress for more.

Paul Bledsoe is strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Institute and a professorial lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served on the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Bill Clinton, and as a staff member at the Senate Finance Committee and for several members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tags Bill Clinton bipartisan carbon emissions Chuck Schumer Climate change Electric vehicles emissions Infrastructure Joe Biden Paul Bledsoe White House
See all Hill.TV See all Video