Jul 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Climate and energy takeaways from the bipartisan infrastructure plan

An illustration of the White House, Capitol building, and Washington Monument .

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Senate's on the cusp of debating a big energy and climate package that says plenty about today's political and scientific moment.

Catch up fast: Text of the bipartisan infrastructure plan isn't out yet, but a summary in circulation and releases from lawmakers and the White House offer contours of the proposal.

  • The Senate voted 67-32 earlier this week to move closer to formal debate on the bill, which has provisions to modernize power grids, deploy EV charging and more.

The big picture: Here's a few takeaways ahead of the arrival of the actual bill text...

We're in a new era in terms of both the size of Beltway proposals and the urgency of dealing with the scope of the climate problem.

  • The plan's combined energy, climate and mass transit provisions are together way larger than the $90 billion in the 2009 rescue package, at the time the biggest U.S. investments ever in these areas.
  • But the Earth's climate doesn't really care about that kind of comparison. Climate change is already having a host of calamitous consequences. This bill contains a down payment on larger investments and incentives likely necessary for the U.S. share of emissions cuts needed to keep Paris Agreement goals viable.
  • Democrats hope to move much more sweeping provisions on a party-line basis via the budget reconciliation process, such as a "clean energy standard" (CES) that would accelerate power sector decarbonization and big EV purchase incentives, to name just two goals.
  • A new post from the Breakthrough Institute calls for going further, but notes: "[A] bipartisan infrastructure bill of this magnitude would itself have been considered implausible before 2020."

It tells us something about the GOP's posture. Republicans generally oppose the more expensive and prescriptive (hello, CES and methane fees) stuff Democrats want to move via reconciliation.

  • But a number of GOP lawmakers support measures aimed at speeding demonstration and deployment of emerging tech.
  • Provisions in the bipartisan plan include billions of dollars around direct air capture, clean hydrogen, and carbon sequestration infrastructure.

It's time to seriously start managing consequences. The bill has a lot on hardening infrastructure, ecosystems and communities against effects of climate change that are already here and slated to worsen.

  • Per the White House, the resiliency measures add up to tens of billions of dollars.
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