GLASGOW, Scotland — When the House of Representatives passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill late Friday night, it took the largest congressional action to confront climate change in U.S. history.
The bill contains $150 billion for clean energy advancement and adaptation to the effects of climate change, surpassing the 2009 economic stimulus package, which spent $90 billion on clean energy development and deployment. The new package also includes $73 billion for modernizing the U.S. electricity grid. Among other things, that will help transmit wind and solar power from the places where it is generated to large population centers.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will create a generation of good-paying union jobs, build better roads and bridges, ports and airports, broadband for all and electricity transmission to combat the climate crisis,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in a statement released Saturday morning. Yesterday, Granholm told Yahoo News that she expected the bill to pass and that her foreign counterparts in Glasgow knew Biden was going to get his climate agenda through Congress.
Unusually for a major domestic policy initiative in an era of intense partisan divisions, the Democratic-led initiative received a handful of Republican votes in both chambers of Congress. It is now headed to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
Coming during the U.N. Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, the action may bolster the prospects for a stronger agreement, as it will demonstrate to other nations that the United States is actually enacting the policies needed to fulfill Biden’s promises of significant near-term reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
Special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry told Yahoo News earlier this week that the Biden administration is achieving its climate goals through executive actions such as issuing new pollution regulations. But executive rule-making can be undone by the next administration more easily than congressional actions.
Nonetheless, passage of the bill has been controversial among Democrats because it also contains funding for infrastructure that perpetuates the use of fossil fuels, at least temporarily. It spends slightly more on roads and bridges than on rail transportation and public transit, though it does also contain $15 billion for electric vehicles.
Adam Jentleson, a former deputy chief of staff to then-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, tweeted in September that it is “a glorified highway approps bill.”
The majority of Biden’s domestic agenda, including the lion’s share of the measures to combat climate change, are in the budget reconciliation bill that is being held up by centrist Democrats concerned about spending too much money and raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.
House progressives had initially refused to pass the infrastructure bill, sometimes known by its acronym BIF, unless it was passed simultaneously with the budget bill known as the Build Back Better Act. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., had previously argued that the infrastructure bill “makes the climate crisis worse” and should not be passed without its companion legislation.
She voted against the bill, but most other members of the House Progressive Caucus voted for it. Perhaps one reason for that is that House moderates issued a statement on Friday committing to vote for the budget bill “in its current form.”
Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, told Yahoo News that her organization is glad the bill passed but believes it’s very important that the rest of Biden’s climate agenda also makes it into law.
“We have concerns with some provisions, but we’re pleased with the funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electric school buses, clean energy research and development, grid modernization and resiliency, and lead pipe replacement and water infrastructure,” she wrote in an email. “It’s also very important that the House moved closer to passing the Build Back Better Act to meet the climate test of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030, and we expect them to move swiftly to finish the job.”
Correction: Ocasio-Cortez voted against the bill.
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