By Perry Bryant
In late March, President Biden proposed an infrastructure initiative that included major provisions addressing the climate crisis. Central to the President’s proposal on climate reform is a clean energy standard requiring electrical utilities to generate with 100 percent clean energy by 2035. Clean energy are energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases including solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, and biomass. Although not specified in the President’s infrastructure initiative, most clean energy standards have an interim standard requiring, for example, 80 percent clean energy generation by 2030.
What makes the proposed clean energy standard so important is that the President did not include other overarching methods to reduce greenhouse gases such a carbon tax, cap-and-trade initiative, or the Green New Deal approach. The clean energy standard is the one major “stick” in the President’s proposal. Almost everything else are “carrots”, primarily tax credits for purchasing clean energy.
And there are a number of carrots in the President’s proposal, including:
- Extending the tax credits for installing solar and wind projects, and making these credits “direct pay” so that taxpayers don’t have to wait to file a tax return in order to receive payment.
- $100 billion in direct pay tax credits for individuals to purchase electrical vehicles. Currently, there is a $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of electrical vehicles, but Tesla and other manufacturers have reached a limit on the number of electrical vehicles that qualify for the tax credit. The President’s proposal lifts that cap.
- $15 billion building a network of 500,000 charging stations for electrical vehicles.
- $25 billion to retire 50,000 diesel transit buses.
- $20 billion electrifying at least 20 percent of the nation’s school buses.
- Replacing federally owned fleet of car and truck, including the post office’s vehicles, with electrical vehicles.
- An immediate up-front investment of $16 billion to reclaim abandoned mine lands and plug orphaned oil and gas wells.
- $10 billion to establish the Civilian Climate Corp to conserve our public lands and water, and implementing projects that increase resiliency to protect communities from the impacts of climate change.
- A true transition plan that provides a $40 million investment in job retraining and other benefits to workers who are impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels and to clean energy.
- $35 billion in research and development for reducing emissions such as small modular reactors and advanced energy storage.
- $100 billion to improve the electrical grid and make it more resilient.
In general, the Conservancy Board voted to support the provisions of the President’s infrastructure initiative. However, both when the Climate Change Committee was drafting a position on the infrastructure initiative and when the Conservancy Board considered the Committee’s recommendations, concerns were expressed over the emphasis on large-scale utility projects in the President’s proposal. These projects will consume significant amounts of land, including potentially forested lands. Additionally, large utility-scale projects will necessitate transportation by high-voltage transmission lines and the inevitable siting problems.
The Conservancy would support more emphasis on distributed energy. Distributed energy, which is primarily rooftop solar, requires no new land for construction and reduces the need for additional high-voltage transmission lines. The Conservancy’s position on the President’s infrastructure proposal also called for greater research on the siting of clean energy sources to limit damages as much as possible, and research into the adverse impacts from the extraction of rare earth elements used in electrical vehicle batteries and other clean energy applications.
The United States has tried for years to address climate change, and frequently we have lacked the political will to institute the significant changes needed to address this crisis. Now we are rapidly running out of time. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Had we acted earlier, the changes to a low-carbon economy could have been smoother. But now we must act. Please contact Senator Manchin (202-224-3954) and urge him to support a clean energy standard which is the glue that holds together President Biden’s attempt to address climate change. Thanks, and if you would like a copy of the Conservancy’s position on the President’s infrastructure initiative as it relates to climate change, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to send you a copy.