President Joe Biden is about to roll out the biggest climate spending plan in U.S. history, kicking off a titanic political battle to make it happen, with literally the future of the planet at stake.
The $2 trillion proposal he’s announcing Wednesday represents a new political strategy to lead the U.S. into a serious response to global warming, which scientists say will unleash planet-wide catastrophe if we don’t act soon. Biden’s approach hitches a climate package to one of the most popular bipartisan issues in Washington, infrastructure spending, in hopes of getting Congress to pass both together.
The result is a historically massive investment program that tackles many Democratic priorities all at once—while trying to get corporations to pay for it with higher taxes.
“This is a breathtakingly ambitious undertaking,” said Paul Bledsoe, who advised former President Bill Clinton on climate and now serves as strategic adviser for the Progressive Policy Institute. “This is the first time, in my view, that U.S. policy has attempted to grapple with climate change in its full complexity.”
“This is the first time, in my view, that U.S. policy has attempted to grapple with climate change in its full complexity.”
Though the bill is large, liberals are still criticizing it as insufficient to address the climate crisis, which has been linked to raging wildfires in California and punishing storms in the Gulf of Mexico. Moderate Democrats are grumbling about yet another massive spending proposal. And Republicans hate the tax hikes for businesses.
Yet fear of climate change has emerged as a major issue for voters, especially young people. A New York Times poll in October found that almost 60 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about climate change harming their communities.
Biden will roll out the proposal Wednesday afternoon in a speech in Pittsburgh sure to kick off a knock-down, drag-out political fight.
That means the next few weeks will be a crucial moment in the fight against climate change. Scientists say time is running out to avert disastrous consequences over the coming decades, meaning policy choices now will be felt decades into the future.
The Green New Deal — Lite
Biden’s plan envisions a national vehicle charging network that would let Americans cross the country in electric cars—a key step in getting dirty, gas-guzzling engines off the road.
Biden will call for $174 billion to spur the American market for electric vehicles, and create a nationwide network of 500,000 charging stations by 2030, according to details distributed by the White House.
He wants $165 billion for public transit and Amtrak, which could shift Americans away fromcars and into clean mass transportation. The plan calls for improving Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, replacing 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrifying at least 20 percent of America’s yellow school bus fleet.
The program targets $100 billion to build new power lines, which will carry clean electricity produced by solar or wind in the American midwest or offshore to the coasts where power demand is higher. It puts billions into research and development of new green technology, and includes $50 billion for infrastructure resilience to combat climate disasters, like last year’s Hurricane Laura in Louisiana.
Those climate proposals come alongside more traditional infrastructure ideas, like $621 billion for roads and bridges, and spending on expanding broadband internet to rural areas.
A decade ago, former Democratic President Barack Obama once hailed his administration’s $90 billion program, tacked onto a stimulus bill in 2009, as the “largest single investment in clean energy in history.”
Biden’s plan dwarfs that figure.
Democratic senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a co-author of the Green New Deal proposal, called Biden’s plan a “way of accomplishing many of the goals of the Green New Deal.”
The marriage of a climate rescue plan with infrastructure spending differs from some climate solutions proposed in the past, such as taxing the production carbon dioxide, which traps heat in the atmosphere and warms the planet.
But a carbon tax is more politically controversial, noted Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University.
Infrastructure spending “is probably not the most effective approach for dealing with climate change, but politically, this is probably what makes the most sense,” Stavins said.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a co-author of the Green New Deal proposal, called Biden’s plan a “way of accomplishing many of the goals of the Green New Deal.”
Democrats now face the daunting question of how to actually get the measure implemented. Republicans have expressed support for passing an infrastructure package of some kind but also criticized the size of the bill and Biden’s plan to hike taxes on corporations.
Democrats face an especially difficult battle in the Senate, where they have only 51 votes and will need at least nine more to overcome the threat of a filibuster.
There may be a sneaky way around that, however, using the same tool Democrats just employed to get Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package through, which is known as “budget reconciliation.”
The term refers to a loophole that lets the Senate bypass any filibuster for some spending bills. The rules are complex, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is reportedly looking at attempts to use reconciliation to get parts of this climate and infrastructure package through.
Reconciliation could be used for some parts of the plan that affect the budget, Bledsoe said. But other elements, like regulatory measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wouldn’t qualify.