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Financial Press


Outside the Box: Biden should reject the infrastructure plan written by Exxon and invest in saving the climate instead

Elsewhere, devastating floods have struck China and Germany, prolonged droughts are plaguing Southern Africa, and wildfires are raging across Siberia.

These aren’t freak events. They’re a grim portent of what the future could look like if we don’t heed scientists’ warnings and treat the climate crisis as the emergency that it is—starting with the federal infrastructure plan.  

Transit systems from New York City to London and Zhengzhou, China, have been inundated in recent weeks. Extreme rainfall and flooding are increasing climate-related risks and costs for underground infrastructure.

Not a serious plan

Any plan that doesn’t lay the groundwork for tackling the climate crisis with urgency isn’t worth taking seriously. Unfortunately, measured this way, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan now before the Senate is not a serious plan. 

In his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, President Joe Biden had proposed investing $100 billion in renewable energy generation (paired with an energy efficiency and clean electricity standard), $85 billion in mass transit, and $174 billion in vehicle electrification. 

The American Jobs Plan fell far short of the scale that grass-roots coalitions like the Green New Deal Network wanted, but it was a start. The bipartisan compromise takes that already compromised plan and cuts it further to make it completely pointless.

The bipartisan plan cuts Biden’s proposed mass transit funding by 44%. It cuts vehicle electrification funding by a stunning 91%. And it cuts renewable energy by 100%—right on down to $0.

In the face of such an obvious crisis, how could these senators get it so wrong? Part of the answer, simply, is money. 

Recently, Exxon Mobil

lobbyists were caught on video bragging about stripping renewable energy from the infrastructure proposal and turning the package into a “highway bill”—with $109 billion for the highway infrastructure that perpetuates the captive market for Exxon’s products.

On MarketWatch: Exxon disavows lobbyist remarks dismissing oil giant’s climate stance

The lobbyists revealed that they specifically targeted 11 senators for lobbying—including several Democrats who signed on to the bipartisan deal. 

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They backed that lobbying with plenty of campaign cash—a total of $333,000 from Exxon and its hired guns over the last decade to just the six Democrats that Exxon targeted. So it was for a very good reason that the bipartisan deal has been ridiculed on social media as the #ExxonPlan.

Few details of second package

Of course, the bipartisan plan is supposed to be just a first step for the Democrats’ infrastructure ambitions. Democrats plan to follow it with another $3.5 trillion package they plan to pass through reconciliation, bypassing the GOP filibuster.

That $3.5 trillion plan takes steps in the right direction. It includes proposals for a standard to require 80% clean electricity by 2030, among other hopeful signs. But details matter a lot in energy policy, and we don’t have too many details yet. 

It remains to be seen whether the standard for 80% “clean” electricity will build up truly renewable energy, such as wind and solar, or motivate dangerous, polluting false solutions like nuclear energy or continued fossil-fuel use with carbon capture and storage.

And while the time horizon for the budget deal ends with 2030, the imperative to get to 100% clean electricity and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector by then should be nonnegotiable. 

Political cowardice

Meanwhile, there has been some worrying backtracking by the White House on the reconciliation package. 

The administration has suggested it won’t support any more funding in the reconciliation bill for items already funded by the bipartisan deal. This includes mass transit and vehicle electrification, both critical to tackling the climate crisis—and both areas where the bipartisan deal cuts funding to unacceptably low levels.

This is nothing short of political cowardice. It’s an exercise in futility as well, since even the bipartisan bill faces a rocky road in the Senate

In a hopeful development, a growing number of progressive House members are expressing frustration with the bipartisan Senate negotiations, both in private and at a public rally. Hopefully they can use their political leverage to ensure that we get a just infrastructure bill.

But ultimately, a lot depends on Biden. 

Biden can continue down the dangerous road of pursuing “bipartisanship.” Or he can reverse course and tell the “Exxon 11” and their colleagues that the bipartisan deal is a nonstarter. Instead, he must demand a plan that actually addresses today’s crises with just solutions.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

More on infrastructure and climate change

Miami’s $6 billion sea wall won’t save the city from flooding — green hybrid designs make more sense

Companies boast about big climate change pledges but less than 50% of the S&P 100 lobbies Washington accordingly

Biden to tout manufacturing in Pennsylvania visit as Republicans say they’re ready to move ahead with infrastructure bill

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