Energy & Environment

Biden climate officials make case for infrastructure based on jobs, environment

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks with reporters at the White House
Getty Images

Top Biden administration climate and energy officials made their case for the president’s infrastructure plan on Thursday, arguing that it would both benefit the planet and create jobs. 

During a White House press briefing, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm discussed opportunities for clean energy jobs in the $2.25 trillion proposal, while national climate adviser Gina McCarthy separately emphasized equity during an event. 

They’re the latest administration officials to advocate for the package as it faces resistance from Republicans who argue that it’s too broad and expensive.

The plan seeks to invest in fixing roads and bridges, expanding the country’s electric vehicle charging network, giving more people broadband access, replacing lead service lines and repairing buildings such schools and hospitals, among multiple other projects.

McCarthy emphasized the environmental justice aspects, calling the proposal an opportunity to “have justice not be the afterthought but be fundamentally built into the fairness of the system.”

“We are not saying ‘here’s the equity section.’ … Equity is built into every single piece of this equation,” she said during a climate justice forum organized by the HBCU [historically Black colleges and universities] Green Fund.

“It’s an underpinning of how we’re going to grow jobs. …  If we grow jobs of the future in clean energy we can make our world sustainable and hand our grandchildren a future we can be proud of,” she told Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official who serves as vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation.

McCarthy called climate infrastructure an essential component of both environmental justice and restoring America’s manufacturing sector. She specifically named West Virginia, a state reliant on the fossil fuel industry and whose Sen. Joe Manchin (D) represents a key swing vote on the plan.

“Climate is so often … projected as a planetary problem, when we know it’s a people problem,” she added, saying effective messaging on the bill’s initiatives is vital. “When push comes to shove it’s going to be how this money is spent and I want to make sure that we are tracking the early expenditures so they give people that sense of hope and opportunity. … Every big thing begins in one neighborhood.”

McCarthy, a former head of the EPA, went on to say President Biden views climate action as first and foremost an opportunity for job creation, noting that the jobs created would predominantly require training but not a college education.

“Our hope is this gives people a sense that they can go back to work and there’ll be plenty of jobs, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist,” she said. “Why is that out of our reach? It never should be.”

Granholm also stressed the jobs element of the proposal, calling the market for clean energy products a “massive opportunity for this country.”

“Our economic competitors are working to corner the market on those opportunities,” Granholm said. “Countries want to corner this market on clean energy products because we have 195 countries who have committed to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions, so the question is, ‘where are those products going to be built?’”

Asked about making sure that the jobs in the plan are as good as ones from oil and gas, she responded, “There are billions of dollars in this bill for the technologies that will reduce CO2 emissions in those industries.”

“Those jobs in those kinds of technologies are good-paying jobs. Those are jobs that are going to be for welders, and sheet metal workers and all of the trades,” she said, adding that the government would ensure the positions entailed project labor agreements. 

Granholm also appeared to push back on Republican arguments that what’s in the package goes beyond the strictest definition of infrastructure.

“Infrastructure is, yes, roads and bridges, but it is ports and airports and it is trains and it is — is the pipes that pump water into our homes and it is the broadband that brings the world and learning to our children. … It’s the electrical grid that keeps the lights on,” she said.

Tags Biden infrastructure Climate change Environmental justice Gina McCarthy green energy Infrastructure Jennifer Granholm Jobs Joe Biden Joe Manchin

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