Apr 9, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Biden's budget would boost climate, clean energy spending

Smokestack at a coal-fired power plant.
Emissions rise from the Kentucky Utilities Co. Ghent generating station in Ghent, Ky., on April 6, 2021. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's first budget request to Congress contains large increases in climate-change-related spending, on the order of $14 billion above the prior year's levels, according to a White House summary.

Why it matters: It provides details on how the White House hopes to translate its vow to act aggressively on global warming, both at home and abroad, into specific funding levels and agency-by-agency plans.

Driving the news: The various clean energy and climate provisions include, per the White House...

  • Over $10 billion for "clean energy innovation," typically a summary for research and development initiatives, which the White House claims is more than 35% above enacted levels during fiscal year 2021.
  • $1 billion combined for a new, cross-agency Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate, as well as the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
  • $600 million for federal agencies to procure and deploy electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.
  • $1.4 billion for various initiatives around environmental justice — that is, efforts to address the greater pollution burdens that poor and minority communities face. If enacted, this would be the most ever spent on environmental justice programs, a key priority for climate and progressive activists, with most of the increased spending going to the EPA.
  • Over $550 million to clean up thousands of abandoned oil-and-gas wells and mines, a task the White House sees as job-creating.

On the international front, it would boost spending in several areas. That includes $1.2 billion for the multilateral Green Climate Fund, which helps developing nations cut emissions and adapt to climate change. It would be the first U.S. contribution since 2017, and a signal to other countries of America's seriousness in addressing climate impacts abroad.

The details: The budget request, also known as the "skinny budget" due to its lack of voluminous details that would typically come from an administration in office for a longer period, would also increase funding for climate change research and resilience across the government.

  • For example, the request seeks $815 million, which would be $540 million above the fiscal year 2021 enacted level, for pre-disaster planning and community rebuilding projects that take climate change into account.
  • It would also include more than $1.2 billion above the 2021 enacted level to increase the resilience of communities and ecosystems to wildfires and other climate-related disasters. A total of $450 million would go to climate mitigation, adaptation, and environmental justice projects in Indian Country, the fact sheet states.

On the research and development side, the discretionary request proposes over $4 billion to fund research across agencies, including NASA, Interior and the National Science Foundation.

  • The request also seeks a major increase in clean energy technologies, part of the administration's goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

By the numbers: Another agency that would benefit under the request is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which manages fisheries, researches climate change and forecasts the weather.

  • $1.4 billion: The White House is asking for a major increase in spending for NOAA compared to the 2021 level, with the money going in part to "climate observation and forecasting work," the fact sheet states. The total funding of $6.9 billion would be the largest budget in the agency's history, the Washington Post reports.
  • $500 million: The White House is seeking to boost NOAA funding for weather forecasting, but President Biden has yet to pick someone to lead the agency, which is housed within the Commerce Department.

Between the lines: The budget request marks a stark 180-degree turn from the Trump administration, which sought to cut climate spending across the board.

Yes, but: It's up to Congress to craft appropriations measures. White House requests are a statement of priorities that can influence lawmakers but don't dictate the final outcome. Instead, this should be viewed as another sign of the administration's intentions and priorities.

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