September 17, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Jon Lamson | Photo by Eric Ingram

Climate change is all sorts of awful. It’s bad and there’s nothing good about it. It’s trash and it shouldn’t exist. But oh boy, it exists. And we’ve got to do something about it if we don’t want to all perish in a fiery hellscape. 

And as it just so happens, at this very moment our representatives in Congress are debating the most significant climate legislation in the history of our country, and perhaps our last shot for a long time to take serious climate action as a country. 

After all, in a report published this summer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that planetary warming is on track to significantly overshoot the goals set in the Paris Agreement. So, while energy policy may not be the sexiest issue, it’s time to whip out those trusty reading glasses and focus up.  

The House and Senate are currently considering two bills, a $3.5 trillion (over ten years) reconciliation bill and a billion–dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill. While both have climate provisions (as well as a whole lot else), the bulk of President Joe Biden’s climate proposals are contained in the reconciliation package. 

According to the budget framework for the reconciliation bill, Democrats hope to include in the bill funding for a civilian climate corps, a clean energy payment program, clean energy tax credits, electric vehicles, climate research, home heating electrification, domestic clean energy manufacturing, and a methane polluter fee. 

The smaller infrastructure bill proposes funding for transit and rail networks, electric vehicle chargers, environmental remediation (cleaning up heavily polluted sites, plugging abandoned wells, etc.) and updates to the power grid. The infrastructure bill also contains significant funding for roads and airports, systems which perpetuate fossil fuel consumption. 

I won’t waste time explaining the details of the legislative process here, but essentially the progressive Democrats in Congress strongly support the reconciliation bill and have refused to back the infrastructure bill unless they are passed in conjunction. However, several conservative Democrats in the House and Senate have voiced their opposition to the reconciliation bill and have pushed to vote on them separately. 

As the Democrats cling to thin legislative majorities in the House and Senate, this standoff just might determine the future of American climate policy for the next decade. In particular, the clean energy tax credits and clean energy payment program specifically focus on the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

But the question remains, even if passed, will these bills be enough to meet the needs of the developing climate crisis?

For some context on the scope of these bills, I reached out to Anders Fremstad, an associate professor of economics at Colorado State University who co-authored a 2019 report ‘Decarbonizing the US Economy.’ According to this report, the United States would have to spend roughly $1 trillion, or 5% of gross domestic product (GDP), to decarbonize over a period of ten years. 

“Current spending on decarbonization is probably in the tens of billions of dollars, less than a tenth of what we need to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius,” he said in an email. “These plans would devote about $500 billion to decarbonization over 10 years. That is about 5% of what my co-authors and I suggest we need.”

In other words, while this level of spending would be unprecedented, it is still far short of what is needed to seriously combat the climate crisis.

“Biden recognizes the threat of climate change,” Fremstad said. “But talking the talk is easier than walking the walk. I hope he passes his proposed budget, because I believe it could build public support for a Green New Deal. It remains to be seen whether Biden can convince ‘moderates’ to address climate change.”

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