NEW YORK: Several of President Joe Biden’s key climate initiatives are hanging in the balance with the highly contested infrastructure deal.
On June 24, the Biden administration officially endorsed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, an eight-year infrastructure investment the White House claimed would make the economy “more sustainable, resilient and just.”
At first glance, the bipartisan framework is a big investment in the environment. The plan includes a $201 billion investment into clean water, power grid improvements, sewers, and environmental remediation projects, $47 billion on resilience projects to mitigate effects from climate change and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.
However, this plan scaled back numerous environmental and equity related promises from Biden’s original $2 trillion proposal.
The biggest loss is Biden’s “human infrastructure” investments in areas such as combating climate change, subsidising education and significant spending for affordable public housing. Republicans additionally lowered funds for public transportation and rail projects.
Biden also backed down on corporate tax increases, which played a significant role in funding the proposed infrastructure investments and were a big selling point for progressives.
Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Michael Regan countered criticism toward the plan’s climate provisions at a White House press briefing, touting the current framework as a “historic investment.”
“This is the largest investment in American history, both on water infrastructure, but we also see some strong movement on climate in this infrastructure bill,” Regan said.
“It’s a critical first step, but the president is holding tight to his vision and the president is looking closely at all the suite of options he has.”
One such option is a larger, concurrent package designed solely by Democrats to reintroduce key provisions cut by bipartisan negotiations.
To get both bills passed in tandem, Senate Democrats are pushing for reconciliation, a way to get spending legislation passed with a simple majority vote.
However, Democrats have not yet agreed on a budget, with figures ranging from $2 trillion to $6 trillion. That high price tag could alienate moderate Democrats in an already narrow vote along party lines.
The Democrat-only package faces an uphill battle from Republicans, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing a “hell of a fight” should Democrats use reconciliation.
Biden initially showed strong support for passing the two bills together and said of the bipartisan bill, “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.” He later walked back the statement after strong Republican backlash.
Climate activists are not happy with Biden’s watered down climate promises.
An estimated 500 protesters from the environmental group Sunrise Movement gathered outside the White House last week, some waving signs that read “Biden, you coward, fight for us.”
Three progressive members of Congress spoke at the event, including Green New Deal advocate Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“They said we’ll promise you, we will leave the world okay for you,” Ocasio-Cortez said in her speech.
“They have broken that promise up until now, and what we’re here to tell them is that you can’t break this promise to us anymore.”