The Senate’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package includes more than $150 billion to boost clean energy and promote “climate resilience” against record-setting hurricanes, floods, drought and wildfires already displacing more Americans.
But the bill, headed for a Senate vote as soon as this week, is missing big pieces of the climate-change action that dominated much of President Joe Biden’s rhetoric in the first months of his administration. And those missing — or at least delayed — programs are what some observers anticipate would return the U.S. to good standing around the globe ahead of key United Nations climate-change talks this November.
The White House has pledged to transform the nation’s heavily fossil fuel-powered
economy into one dominated by renewable energy and to halt emissions from U.S. power plants by 2035. Action in the House could push for more of what Biden has asked for.
The Senate version notably omits mention of a Clean Electricity Standard, a key element of Biden’s climate plan that would require the electric grid to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower.
Nearly a dozen states have implemented their own standards. And though details vary from state to state, clean electricity standards share a primary goal: replacing electricity from fossil fuels with zero-emission electricity from renewables and other sources by requiring utilities to produce a certain percentage of their electricity using clean energy sources like wind and solar, by a target date. On top of setting such kinds of targets, these standards often create a market for trading clean energy credits.
Among the more robust programs in the U.S., Oregon’s legislature passed a clean electricity standard this year with one of the fastest timelines for eliminating power sector emissions in the country, requiring retail electricity companies and providers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80% below baseline levels by 2030, 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2040.
The federal push, however, comes after high profile power outages in Texas and California. An Energy Department study found that power outages cost the U.S. economy up to $70 billion a year. The Senate bill also invests in nuclear reactors, carbon capture and storage and “clean” or green hydrogen that can be burned with few emissions.
The Clean Electricity Standard could be “the biggest change in our energy policy since the lights went on,” Sen. Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, told Vox, in the leadup to the final Senate version.
The energy and climate-change initiatives in the bipartisan Senate deal include $550 billion in new spending for public works projects, $73 billion of that to update the electric grid and more than $50 billion to bolster infrastructure against cyberattacks and climate change. There’s also $7.5 billion for electric charging stations
The Senate bill allocates nearly three times as much money for highways, at $300 billion, as it does for public transportation, at $105 billion. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., at 29%.
In total, the bipartisan deal contains about $20 billion less for public transportation and EVs compared to the bipartisan framework that senators and the White House announced last June, energy industry publication E&E reports.
The White House says the bipartisan deal is just the first step, with a proposed $3.5 trillion, Democratic-only package following close behind. The larger bill, still being finalized in Congress, could meet Biden’s promise to move the country toward carbon-free electricity and help it catch up to EV development and use in Europe and Asia, supporters say.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the Senate bill inadequate and pledged to push for changes in the House. That chamber had passed a separate, $715 billion transportation and water bill in early July.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said last week at a League of Conservation Voters press conference that action on climate change was “imperative.”
The Senate’s bill also excludes a Civilian Climate Corps, a favored “pro-jobs” Biden project and a nod to the Great Depression-era New Deal that proponents said would put millions of Americans to work on conservation projects, renewable energy and helping communities recover from climate disasters.
The Senate voted 66-28 late last week to advance the bill, but it’s unclear how many Republicans will eventually join Democrats to support final passage. Senate rules require 60 votes in the evenly split 50-50 chamber to advance the bill but a simple majority to pass it.
“We made a commitment early on that we were going to do two things. One, we were going to focus on core infrastructure. So when President Biden introduced a $2.65 trillion bill and called it infrastructure, we said, ‘Well, there’s some good stuff in there, but let’s pull out the good stuff, the core infrastructure.’ Because a lot of it had nothing to do with infrastructure,” said Sen. Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and one of the lead negotiators, from the Senate floor.
“And second, we said, ‘You know what, we’re not going to do it by raising taxes. We’re not going to hurt the American worker more and make America less competitive in this. We’re going to do just the opposite,’” he said.
House progressives are pushing for increased spending on climate change, while centrist lawmakers are wary of adding to the federal debt. Much uncertainty lies with Pelosi, who has been adamant that she will not take up the bipartisan bill until the Senate sends over the eventual reconciliation package, a process that is almost certain to go into the fall, said Frank Maisano, senior principal, focused on energy, with PRG in Washington.
The Associated Press contributed.