Amid a lot of glitz and much, much relief, US President Joe Biden enacted the bipartisan Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.
In almost every way, this is one of the greenest laws in American history, containing billions for energy efficiency, electric vehicle infrastructure, and public transportation. But by the critical measurement of whether he will deliver on Biden’s promises to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, he is almost entirely without impact.
The new law proposes a “nominal reduction below existing policy” for carbon dioxide emissions, according to preliminary analysis by Jesse Jenkins, a professor at Princeton University who has followed the impact of the provisions of the bill . Jenkins estimates he will reduce emissions by less than 100 million metric tonnes more than current policy.
In contrast, his group found that the September version of the Build Back Better package, which contains money for environmental and social policy initiatives and was championed by the president, would cut emissions by more than $ 1.1 billion. metric tons.
The difference matters. Together, that, plus the new law, would bring Biden closer to his promise to reduce emissions by 2030 to 50% of peak levels in 2005. The infrastructure law alone will not do it.
Biden said Monday he was confident Congress would pass the Build Back Better measure. “With the infrastructure bill millions of lives will be changed for the better,” he said.
There is a lot in the new infrastructure law that climate advocates can celebrate. It provides $ 39 billion to modernize public transit, $ 66 billion to maintain Amtrak, and $ 65 billion for badly needed power grid upgrades.
But the law is full of provisions as favorable to fossil fuels as to their carbon-free alternatives. A modernized electricity grid that still carries energy from fossil fuels does not in itself reduce the country’s carbon footprint. The plan includes $ 5 billion for new school buses, although the program would allow half to go to buses that run on natural gas or propane instead of being fully electric.
The potential of the new law’s climate investments depends almost entirely on passing the second bill, Build Back Better, which includes money to help decarbonize the power grid and heavily polluting industries such as steel and cement. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat and a crucial vote, said he wanted to see the bill analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office, which means it is unlikely to pass. soon.
“The infrastructure bill includes very few elements that would lead to direct emission reductions, but includes a lot of funding for a very important technology that will allow the emission reductions that the BBB could achieve,” says Robbie Orvis. , senior director of energy policy design at Energy Innovation, a non-partisan research group in San Francisco.
Take, for example, the fact that the Infrastructure Act authorizes $ 7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle charging stations. It’s a big step, but few analysts believe it alone will prompt enough Americans to switch from combustion-engine cars to electric vehicles. This motivation will require the $ 7,500 electric car purchase credit found in the BBB.
“We won’t have accelerated sales of electric vehicles without the purchase credit,” said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, senior researcher for the climate and energy program at Third Way, a center-left think tank based in Washington, in a statement. analysis of invoices published in Sarasota Magazine. “The reason is that by 2025 we still have relatively high battery costs in electric vehicles. “
Without measures to implement and energize the plans started with the Biden law signed on Monday, a yawning gap remains between lofty promises and an increasingly hot reality.
Leslie Kaufman writes the Climate Report newsletter on the impact of global warming for Bloomberg News.