Apr 1, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The top climate takeaways from Biden's sweeping infrastructure plan

Illustration of a Congressional bill being lifted by a crane
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House decided to go big or go home in proposing a more than $2.2 trillion bill that, if enacted, would be the most far-reaching climate legislation ever adopted by the U.S.

Between the lines: This could be a long slog on Capitol Hill, given Republican opposition to another big spending package and divisions among Democrats over specific provisions.

Here are some key takeaways:

1) The White House has three goals it's trying to address:

  • Slash greenhouse gas emissions from multiple economic sectors, particularly transportation.
  • Address longstanding racial and economic disparities between the communities that reap the benefits of research and development, and those that experience the scourge of pollution.
  • Generate what it claims will be tens of thousands of well-paying, union jobs.

2) President Biden wants lawmakers to forget the price tag. Climate scientists and economists agree that failing to slash emissions and limit the severity of global warming will be even more costly.

  • A 2018 federal climate report found that by the end of the century, global warming could cost the U.S. 10% of its gross domestic product if emissions were to continue on a business as usual trajectory.
  • “Climate change is going to impact our economy in deeper and deeper ways each year,” said Josh Freed of Third Way, a centrist group.

3) But we don't know the whole price tag. The White House summary lists hundreds of billions in energy and transit provisions.But the White House confirmed those tallies don't include costs of the plan's new and expanded tax credits for clean energy, transmission and more.

4) There is no carbon pricing scheme, such as a carbon tax or cap and trade system. Pricing's absence shows how those programs have lost cachet on the left and still face stiff GOP resistance.

5) Biden sees an upside to framing this bill around the need to compete with China, which could attract more support.

  • His speech in Pittsburgh mentioned "climate" just once explicitly, instead focusing on creating well-paying jobs through innovation.
  • "If we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say, this was the moment that America won the future," Biden said.

What's next: The proposal will need to be turned into legislative language in the House and Senate.

What they're saying: Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, tells Axios that the proposal is an "opening bid."

  • The provisions, she said, demonstrate “a big appetite for taking on this crisis at a scale that’s necessary to avert even bigger consequences through climate disasters."
  • Matt Piotrowski, director of policy and research at Climate Advisers, said Biden has a tough task ahead of him in trying to find enough support for this plan.
  • "Biden is trying to walk a fine line here. As a starting point, I think he is doing a good job. Whether he can sell this enough to make it pass is an open question."
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