Energy & Environment

Five key energy components of the bipartisan infrastructure bill

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The newly unveiled $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill contains numerous components aimed at improving the country’s energy, transportation and water needs.

The bill’s introduction comes as infrastructure legislation is seen as the best chance to take big steps on climate action — though many expect a $3.5 trillion Democratic-only package to include more expansive measures to address climate change.

Here are five big energy and environment topics tackled in the bipartisan bill.

Climate-focused transportation, but not necessarily emission-free

The bill contains $7.5 billion for clean energy school buses and ferries, but only a portion of that will go toward zero-emission vehicles.

The measure also includes funding for vehicles running on fuels like natural gas that are less carbon-intensive than gasoline and diesel fuels, but still contribute to climate-warming emissions.

According to a fact sheet from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, $2.5 billion will be allocated for zero-emissions school buses and another $2.5 billion will go toward both zero-emissions buses and others that run on “alternative fuels,” which include some fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions: liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas, hydrogen, propane and biofuels.

The remaining $2.5 billion would go toward replacing ferries with electric and “low-emitting” ferries or reducing emissions on existing ferries.

The legislation defines low-emitting ferries as those that run predominantly on methanol, denatured ethanol and related fuels but mixed with gasoline, natural gas, liquified petroleum gas, hydrogen, other biofuels or electricity.

The legislation also includes $7.5 billion for electric vehicle chargers. A source involved with the bill said that $5 billion of that amount would be provided by the federal government and would be distributed to states to spend on EV charging.

Cleaner power from sources other than renewables

The legislation aims to boost various forms of energy, including nuclear energy and fossil fuels where carbon emissions are captured using technology — but has fewer provisions for renewable sources like solar power.

It would aim to boost nuclear power through a program seeking to keep nuclear reactors in operation. The program would get $6 billion between 2022 and 2026.

Separately, it would give financial and technical assistance to entities to determine suitable locations for microreactors, small modular reactors and advanced nuclear reactors in isolated communities.

To boost carbon capture, which uses still-developing technology to capture emissions from activities such as burning fossil fuels, the legislation would provide loans and implement grants for states, local government and public utilities.

The legislation would also seek to promote hydrogen power,  in which hydrogen electrons go through a circuit and create electricity. It would create a research and development program and identify regional “hubs” for the energy source.

It also seeks to bolster water power generation, called hydropower, through production and efficiency improvement incentives.

The limited assistance for solar energy would establish a program on former mine land to harness solar power.

On the fossil fuel front, the legislation would create programs to plug abandoned oil wells and clean up abandoned mines. The legislation also directs the government to sell oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, bringing in revenue and adding a greater supply to the market.

Electric grid upgrades

The bill includes provisions to reinforce the resilience of the U.S. electric grid, echoing an earlier proposal from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and reflecting concerns after extreme weather knocked out Texas’ self-contained grid.

The text includes a nationwide grid reliability program, to be established within 180 days. The program would “demonstrate innovative approaches to transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure to harden and enhance resilience and reliability,” as well as strategies to improve resilience on a regional basis “implemented through States by public and rural electric cooperative entities on a cost-shared basis,” the text states.

The bill would allocate $1 billion from 2022 to 2026 to modernize and improve rural grid resilience. The funds would be authorized for upgraded transmission lines, improved energy efficiency, development of microgrids and reducing emissions.

The legislation requires the submission of a report to Congress detailing existing cybersecurity for energy distribution systems within a year.

Energy efficiency in buildings

The legislation aims to take on energy use in buildings.

It would do so through a number of programs including grants for states to create loan funds for building energy upgrades, and grants to incentivize states and others to develop updated building codes.

The measure would create an information sharing agreement on commercial building energy consumption data. It also would allow manufacturers to request the Energy Department assess opportunities for maximizing their energy efficiency.

The legislation also particularly targets schools through grants for reductions in their energy costs, improved indoor air quality and switches to alternatively fueled school buses.

Cleaning up lead, toxic chemicals in water systems

The bill would put nearly $50 billion toward water infrastructure, including cleanup of so-called forever chemicals, as well as removal and replacement of lead pipes.

The figure is about $7 billion less than the amount touted by the White House last week.

Of the amount in the bill, $10 billion would go toward cleaning up toxic substances — the “forever chemicals” known by their acronym PFAS — that have been tied to cancer and immune system problems.

The measure also would provide $15 billion to replace lead pipes, a key infrastructure agenda item for the Biden administration. The replacement process would prioritize low-income communities and communities of color, which have been disproportionately affected in cases like the poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Mich.

Tags Climate change Fossil fuels infrastructure bill lead pipes Renewable energy
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