Environmentalists see infrastructure as crucial path to climate goals
Supporters of President Biden’s infrastructure plan see it an important tool for getting his climate goals across the finish line.
Some argue that is the most politically prudent way to pass some of the provisions that they fear may not have enough bipartisan support to evade a filibuster on their own.
And they expressed concern that if the plan doesn’t get through Congress, it could make Biden’s pledges like getting U.S. emissions to half of 2005 levels by the end of the decade much harder to accomplish.
The president’s American Jobs Plan has a number of provisions aimed at combating climate change including electric vehicles, building efficiency upgrades and a clean electricity standard, which would require power providers to get all their energy from clean sources by 2035.
“The American Jobs Plan is central to enacting Biden’s clean energy and jobs agenda,” said Jamal Raad, executive director at Evergreen Action, a group composed of former campaign staffers for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who ran a climate-focused campaign during the 2020 Democratic primary.
He called the infrastructure package “plausibly the only way” to get Biden’s climate agenda through Congress.
The approximately $2.3 trillion plan has met Republican resistance, as opponents argue that it’s too broad, too expensive and don’t agree with how to pay for it.
The Biden administration put forth a $1.7 trillion counter offer on Friday that removes funding for research and development — including on climate — but continues to push for tax credits for clean energy and transmission lines, as well as investing in electric vehicle infrastructure.
The offer was not well received by Republicans, with a spokesperson for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.a) saying in a statement that the new price tag was “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support.”
Democrats have the option to sidestep Republicans, and a GOP filibuster, by pursuing a budget reconciliation package that would require only a simple majority in each chamber.
“There’s not going to be 10 Republican votes for bold climate and clean energy policy,” Raad said, referring to votes needed to bypass the filibuster.
But even the budget reconciliation route could meet some resistance from moderate members in their caucus, particularly Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.).
Manchin is not on board with Biden’s plan to pay for infrastructure spending by raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, and he has expressed skepticism about a clean electricity standard that’s in the package.
Some advocates, though, say there are various avenues for achieving Biden’s climate goals.
“There are lots of interesting and even bipartisan ideas that could be very helpful in terms of meeting our climate goals,” said Brad Townsend, vice president of policy and outreach at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
“Infrastructure investments are going to be really important. You’re also going to need other policy mechanisms such as comprehensive policies that could take the form of a variety of different market-based approaches,” he said, adding that the clean electricity standard could be one such example of a market-based approach.
Agency rules are seen by some as another way to accomplish some climate objectives alongside congressional action.
“There are some regulatory changes that the administration’s looking at,” said Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president for political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“In addition to that, we believe that legislation creates durability and it also creates more flexibility for not just the federal government but for the whole economy to ensure that we’re getting the emissions reductions as quickly and as dramatically as we can.”
The regulatory path can be fraught with legal challenges, though.
“We don’t think climate legislation is essential to reaching the climate targets. However, it is very risky to rely on regulations and administration actions alone, especially given the Supreme Court,” said Christy Goldfuss, who led the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration.
Goldfuss, who is now senior vice president for energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress, said one way the administration could try to meet its goals through regulation would be “to focus on a set of clean air regulations that are very focused on air pollution and really addresses combating air pollution, which would have the impact of helping to drive down climate pollution as well.”