The infrastructure deal struck this week is full of electric vehicle and climate investments—evidence that both parties are embracing clean energy spending once considered a pipe dream.
The plan includes $7.5 billion that is the first-ever national investment for electric vehicle charging stations. The $73 billion to upgrade U.S. electricity infrastructure and $39 billion for public transit are the largest investments in those areas to date, according to the Biden administration.
“This is a strong statement about the political consensus now to reinvest in infrastructure and to make substantial commitments to addressing climate needs,” said Alex Flint, a former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staff director. “These issues are reaching the top of the priority list.”
The $550 billion plan backed by 17 Republicans in a procedural test vote signals hope by environmentalists that such bipartisanship will extend to significant actions on climate beyond the confines of infrastructure bills or other large spending packages.
The Senate test vote suggests that significant spending on climate resilience, once rarely discussed in Congress, is now being embraced by Republicans and Democrats, said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation.
The package “would put millions of Americans back to work strengthening community resilience,” including pollution reduction and wildlife habitat restoration, O’Mara said.
Final passage of the bipartisan plan isn’t assured. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he wants the bill passed before the chamber goes on recess sometime in August. Some Democrats want more water spending.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made House passage contingent on moving a second, even larger, package to be moved through the fast-track process known as reconciliation. She is backed by many House Democrats who argue the infrastructure package shortchanges climate spending.
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Progress or Retreat?
Many environmental groups are applauding what they see is big gains under the $550 billion plan, including funds to make the U.S. power system and other infrastructure more resilient to severe weather and climate impacts.
The White House said the deal includes more than $50 billion to better protect against droughts and floods, improve weatherization and increase protections against cyber attacks.
“This is evidence that the government will subsidize low carbon technologies and encourage them to displace greenhouse gases or carbon intensive technologies,” said Flint, who is now executive director at the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group advocating for carbon pricing. “But we don’t yet have a consensus on policies directed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions.”
Some climate advocacy groups, including the Sunrise Movement, say the package falls well short of the trillions of dollars needed to address the climate change crisis evident in heat waves wildfires across the U.S.
“This bipartisan deal is comically and terrifyingly small,” said Lauren Maunus, advocacy director for Sunrise. Congress shouldn’t “get distracted by this pathetic version of an infrastructure package that only waters down much needed climate priorities.”
But others sound a more optimistic note.
A national poll found 76% favor congressional investments in energy research and development, particularly for boosting U.S. innovation over competitors such as China and Russia, according to Sarah Hunt, CEO of the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy, which backs conservative energy and climate solutions.
Among only Republicans, support was nearly as high—69%, Hunt said. The poll, conducted by Ragnar Research Partners, suggests Republican voters will support funding for public-private partnerships on promising technologies such as carbon capture, advanced nuclear power, and hydrogen when seen as a way to boost U.S. competitiveness and leadership, she said.
“The quiet under-current here is that this matters to Republican voters,” Hunt said. “And what matters to Republican voters will matter to Republican senators.”