A short-run weekly newsletter analyzing federal climate action during the first months of the Biden administration.
Hello, I’m Shannon Osaka, and today is Day 73 of the Biden administration. This week, the Biden infrastructure plan landed.
President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan is not about the climate.
Wait. Bear with me. The president unveiled his long-awaited plan to revive the country’s roads, trains, pipes, and bridges on Wednesday. On its face, the plan has nothing to do with climate change. It’s called the “American Jobs Plan,” and its focus is just that: jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Spanning 25 pages, it has sections on the corporate tax code, proposals to expand broadband access and upgrade schools, and about a zillion different ways to say “good-quality, well-paying union jobs.”
And that’s … kind of the point. Even though the plan is stuffed with good-for-the-climate provisions, the Biden administration has made a strategic choice not to package this as a “climate bill,” decked out in carbon taxes and emissions limits. The idea is to make climate action seem practical, technical, and maybe even a little bit boring. As Josh Freed, the climate and energy director of the think tank Third Way, told me: “It’s an infrastructure and jobs plan — that also happens to have the most ambitious goals to address climate change any administration has ever attempted.”
The country’s last big investment in renewables and clean energy was in 2009, when President Barack Obama’s economy-boosting Recovery Act included $90 billion earmarked for wind and solar power, electric vehicles, and public transit. Biden’s plan blows that figure out of the water, asking Congress to spend $100 billion on revamping the electricity grid alone. There’s also $172 billion for electric vehicles, $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for rail, $35 billion for clean energy research, and much more.
This is, of course, just Biden’s opening bid to Congress. While the dollar estimates are big, they are also subject to change as the House and Senate begin to wrangle over the details, and the White House figures out how to pass the package through the devilish reconciliation process. In a speech on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Biden indicated that he would seek Republican support for the plan, and the package’s focus on jobs and “shovel-ready” projects might just attract some of them. But he also signaled a willingness to move ahead without bipartisan support, saying, “We have to get it done.”
The bigger question is whether even this $2 trillion package will be enough to get the country’s emissions to “net-zero” in the space of a few decades. Biden has called the plan a “once-in-a-generation” investment in U.S. infrastructure. If passed, it will definitely be the biggest climate package in the last 20 years. But will it be sufficient for the next 20?
But Wait … There’s More.
- Michael Regan, the new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, has dismissed all members of two key EPA science committees, vowing to restore scientific integrity to the federal agency. Under President Trump, industry consultants and climate deniers were appointed to the agency’s Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which help advise the EPA on rulemaking and are often cited in federal court cases. The just-jettisoned members will be invited to reapply, but will be held to stricter ethics standards.
- Twenty-six scholars, activists, and experts gathered earlier this week for the first meeting of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a new group to address current and historic environmental injustices. The council will help advise the EPA and the White House on how to incorporate the interests of low-income Americans and communities of color into the administration’s climate plans. The Biden administration has already promised that 40 percent of relevant investments to tackle the climate crisis will go to historically disadvantaged communities.
- The Biden administration dove into offshore wind on Monday, releasing plans to cordon off a section of the Atlantic Ocean for development. The area, known as the New York Bight, is off the coast of New Jersey and Long Island and will be designated a “priority wind energy area.” The White House also vowed to more than double the country’s planned offshore wind capacity by 2030, adding more than 30 gigawatts of new power.