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Democrats push climate agenda with infrastructure bill

The “Green New Deal” is too weak for progressives and too pricey for conservatives

A coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo. Associated Press/Photo by J. David Ake (file)

Democrats push climate agenda with infrastructure bill

Most Americans think of infrastructure as roads, bridges, and transportation. But more than half of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—a $1 trillion bipartisan bill the Senate passed on Monday—is actually designated for what many are calling the “Green New Deal” after a pet project of Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The bill faces intense House debates next. If passed, it would allocate billions for climate policies and environmental programs. Yet the proposals are drawing fire from both climate change activists and their critics.

President Joe Biden campaigned on promises of “environmental justice” and incorporated several Green New Deal proposals into his infrastructure requests. Provisions in the bipartisan package include $21 billion for “environmental remediation”—cleaning up oil fields and polluted sites—and a whopping $50 billion for “climate resiliency.” This includes strengthening structures to withstand extreme weather and responding to natural disasters. Democrats classify the deal as “human infrastructure” that promotes green energy projects, adding jobs in energy-efficient fields and helping communities affected by climate change. 

The Heritage Foundation’s Katie Tubbs called the bill “a poor way to conduct environmental policy” by failing to define how remediation works or what benefits the programs are expected to provide: “That gives a lot of leeway to the Transportation Department to define the goal and minimal accountability to Americans as to costs and benefits of the program.”

One potential problem: the $21.5 billion the bill gives to the Department of Energy (DOE) to create a new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations to spearhead new energy programs and sponsor new technologies. This allocation worries experts who see the DOE as an organization that overpromises and underdelivers. In 2014, Don Marron with the Brookings Institution studied the department’s claims of turning a profit on green energy programs. He found that rather than providing an expected $810 million, the agency cost taxpayers $780 million.

Given a Congressional Budget Office projection that the overall infrastructure deal will increase the deficit, both Republicans and moderate Democrats worry about handing over billions as the economy recovers from pandemic recessions. In an interview with NPR, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., voiced a common concern: “We clearly want to, and need to, address the impacts of climate change, and we’ve got to protect our environment, but we’ve got to do it in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Markey called the bipartisan deal “a good place to start” but joined other Democrats in their disappointment that other climate change policies did not make it into the final draft. The bill leaves out the Clean Electricity Standard, which would replace fossil fuels with solar, wind, or hydropower. Activists say a well-funded fossil fuel lobby kept it out of the bill. “This looks like the Exxon Infrastructure Bill,” said Janet Redman of Greenpeace USA.

The bill faces a battle on multiple fronts in the House. Chairman of the Republican Study Committee Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., sent a memo to fellow committee members blasting the bipartisan package as promoting leftist social justice policies rather than true infrastructure. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez have refused to consider the bipartisan deal until the Senate also sends the reconciliation bill. To pass reconciliation, the Democrats need every member of their caucus to vote for it. Unconventional Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have said they’re not willing to pass such a large spending measure.

The House is currently on a scheduled August recess. In the meantime, a coalition of pro-Biden groups plans to bombard lawmakers on break with a $100 million ad campaign and more than 1,000 events to maintain pressure to pass both infrastructure bills.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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