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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Infrastructure talks between the White House and Congress have entered a phase that's making climate advocates extremely nervous.

Why it matters: Environmental groups and even some Democratic lawmakers are increasingly vocal with their fears that the White House will jettison central components of President Biden's climate plan during the talks, which could cause the U.S. to fall short of its new emissions targets.

Driving the news: The anxiety burst into the open following a statement that Biden's national climate adviser Gina McCarthy made to Politico on Tuesday, which pointed to the Clean Electricity Standard (CES) as one of the policies that might fall short.

  • "While every piece like a clean electricity standard may not end [up] in the final version, we know that it is necessary, we know that the utilities want it, we are going to fight like crazy to make sure that it's in there," McCarthy said.
  • "And then we're going to be open to a range of other investment strategies."

Zoom in: Biden's proposed CES would mandate that electric utilities generate 80% of their electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2030, with that figure hitting 100% by 2035.

  • To backers of the policy, the CES is the most important policy in Biden's climate agenda. And some utilities are in favor of it.
  • Although it's with some asterisks, the Edison Electric Institute, an investor-owned utility association, supports it as well.
  • Proponents say a CES would have a ripple effect throughout the economy, making electric vehicles cleaner by connecting them to a renewable grid, for example.

The details: Biden has also proposed huge clean energy-related investments that advocates want to survive, but let's look at the CES...

  • It would be difficult to accomplish Biden's ambitious emissions reduction targets without the CES, according to Leah Stokes, a political science professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Stokes sits on the advisory board of Evergreen Action, a group that supports the CES.
  • "If you want to do 50% by 2030, you have to make progress in the electric power sector. The electric power sector is the most important sector for decarbonization. It's the first linchpin," Stokes told Axios, referring to the administration's overall climate goal of cutting emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • "It enables decarbonization in buildings, transportation, parts of heavy industry, it could enable up to potentially 75% economy-wide emissions reductions in carbon," she added.

The big picture: It's not just activists who are getting nervous watching the legislative clock tick down. Senate Democrats are increasingly staking their ground on climate, too.

  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a stalwart climate advocate, has taken to Twitter to vent his concerns about watered down climate provisions.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

What we're watching: How any infrastructure bill or bills balances the thorny politics on Capitol Hill with the stark math of climate change will be one of the key stories to watch this summer.

Go deeper

Dem Rep. DeFazio: GOP refusal to address climate change is a "major stumbling block"

Axios' Hans Nichols and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). Photo: Axios

Republican refusal to address climate change is "the major stumbling block" to bipartisan consensus on a proposed bill core to Biden's infrastructure package, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said at an Axios virtual event on Wednesday.

Why it matters: DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, described his bill as "probably the single largest portion of the American Jobs Plan. He said that although Republicans and Democrats on the House transportation committee "can work together on a lot of things," GOP members "just will not address climate change."

NZ report recommends drastic methane emissions cuts to meet climate goals

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a May news conference in Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo: Joe Allison/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a speech Wednesday that the climate crisis was a matter of "life or death," as a blueprint for meeting her government's ambitious green targets was unveiled.

Driving the news: The Climate Commission, an independent body advising the government, outlines in its report what the country needs to do to meet its target for 2050 of producing zero carbon emissions — including reducing biogenic methane emissions by 24% to 47%, with no new household gas connections by 2025.

Study: Greenhouse gases from food systems vastly underestimated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from activities connected to growing and consuming food have been significantly underestimated, and may be twice as large as previously thought, new research finds.

Why it matters: Agriculture is already known to be one of the largest contributors to human-caused global warming. If the sector's emissions are larger than thought, it could mean the world will see more warming than anticipated.

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