The First 100 – A climate tech agency takes shape
A short-run weekly newsletter analyzing federal climate action during the first months of the Biden administration.
Hello, I’m Zoya Teirstein, and today is Day 31 of the Biden administration. This week, President Biden rebooted America’s climate innovation effort.
Former President Trump sought to undo many aspects of his predecessor’s legacy on climate change, but his administration really had it out for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, or ARPA-E. The group — authorized under George W. Bush in 2007 but funded for the first time under Obama — supports nascent clean energy technologies that haven’t attracted major investment. Trump tried to eliminate funding for the program a number of times, despite its having wide bipartisan support.
Late last week, President Biden put in motion his plan to authorize a similar effort for addressing climate change, called ARPA-C. Instead of funding energy innovations, ARPA-C would support new and potentially groundbreaking climate technologies — everything from capturing, removing, and storing carbon emissions to developing sustainable fuels for airplanes and ships.
The idea is not without controversy. Jesse Jenkins, an energy systems engineer and associate professor at Princeton University, told E&E News he didn’t see why a new agency needed to be created when the work could fall under ARPA-E’s remit. And a raft of environmentalists argue that ARPA-C’s focus on carbon capture and removal technologies, which could extend our reliance on fossil fuel-fired power plants and are hotly debated, could obscure what the administration’s real goal should be: preventing emissions from happening in the first place.
But others say creating such a group is an important milestone in Biden’s efforts to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050. Think of it this way: ARPA-E is mostly about climate mitigation — funding technologies that result in fewer emissions. ARPA-C could end up being more focused on adaptation. Like it or not, we’ve got a ton of warming already baked into the planet’s future, so how can we become more resilient in the decades ahead?
Biden will need congressional authorization before ARPA-C becomes a reality, but the president got the ball rolling last week by announcing the formation of a climate innovation working group “to advance his commitment to launching an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate.”
But Wait … There’s More.
This one number could alter how the U.S. handles climate change. The White House is expected to release new values for the social costs of carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide on Friday. These are complicated calculations that attempt to quantify the true consequences of putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — and they can help agencies justify climate-friendly regulations. The new values will be temporary while Biden’s team works to develop permanent ones over the next year, but they are expected to be 50 times higher than the values used under Trump.
Honk your horns for climate-friendly transit grants. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced $889 million in grants for projects that, at least in part, explicitly address climate change and environmental justice. Projects will be evaluated based on whether they support strategies for lowering greenhouse gas emissions like installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure or reducing car use.
A new respect for boundaries. The Interior Department has begun reaching out to Native American tribes, local lawmakers, and other stakeholders to review changes made to national monuments, such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, under the Trump administration. On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order giving Interior 60 days to issue a report with recommendations regarding monument boundaries and protections.