One major component of President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal is a promise to clean up the country's electricity system.
To do that, the American Jobs Plan sets out new mandates for renewable energy and calls for an overhaul of the electric grid to make it more resilient to climate disasters.
Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has studied the electric grid. The $100 billion electric grid renovation is actually closer to $400 or $500 billion, she says, because the administration didn’t score key tax credits in the proposal.
“That's really good news because we have so many things we have to do to our electricity grid to make it more resilient and reliable,” she says, “as we've seen with outages caused by heat waves in California or the massive cold snap in Texas.”
Investments in the system now will help clean the air, bring stability to the electric grid and address the climate crisis, she notes.
If passed by Congress, Stokes says there are two crucial parts to the package she hopes the funds will be spent on — extensions on tax credits and a clean electricity standard.
Unlike subsidies in the fossil fuel industry, tax credits for clean energy like wind and solar expire regularly, she explains. The package could extend tax credits for a decade and allow companies to utilize them regardless of tax liability.
A clean electricity standard — which Biden campaigned on — “is an idea that's been pioneered in a majority of states across the country that says that we need to increase the amount of renewables and other clean electricity,” she says.
Federal action on a clean electricity standard would increase the U.S.’s current 40% clean electricity use to 80% by 2030, she says.
Biden is calling this a "once-in-a-generation investment." But critics say the plan pales in comparison to the scale of the climate crisis. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the proposal “not nearly enough,” and similar sentiments have been raised by the Sunrise Movement, a climate change advocacy group.
Stokes says it’s important to keep in mind that the bill is “an opening bid from the White House” on addressing climate change. With scoring tax credits, the $2 trillion plan is closer to $3 trillion, she says.
It’s still short — but closer — to the $4 trillion spending demand that a coalition of environmental and labor groups have called for. Their efforts to push Congress to “go bigger and bolder on the climate crisis” is a smart move, she says.
“This is a really huge challenge that's on our doorstep and also a very big opportunity,” she says. “But Congress is ultimately the body that gets to legislate.”
The American Jobs Plan could look completely different based on what happens in Congress if the bill passes. The Biden administration has invited a group of Republican lawmakers to the White House this week in an attempt to gather support for the plan.
Some moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin, could sway what climate provisions make it to the final law.
Stokes remains optimistic that Congress will align on climate mandates and says that Manchin, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will support climate legislation in the bill. While the West Virginia senator may have different solutions to the problem, he’s signaled that he understands the magnitude of the climate crisis, she says.
“I think that there is space to see movement,” she says. “And I'm very hopeful that we get — finally — get some comprehensive climate legislation out of Congress this year.”
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration of more than 400 news outlets committed to better coverage of the climate crisis. This year's theme is "living through the climate crisis."
This segment aired on April 12, 2021.