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Democrats Call Infrastructure Bill a Down Payment on Climate

Democrats Call Infrastructure Bill a Down Payment on Climate
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Democrats Call Infrastructure Bill a Down Payment on Climate

Democrats Call Infrastructure Bill a Down Payment on Climate

WASHINGTON – The A $ 1 trillion infrastructure deal struck by a bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday would be a significant down payment on President Biden’s ambitious environmental agenda, including early federal spending on electric vehicle charging stations and most large investment in public transport and drinking water systems in the country. the story.

The plan also includes the first federal spending on “climate resilience” – to adapt and rebuild roads, ports and bridges to withstand damage from rising sea levels, more severe storms and waves. more devastating heat that will occur as the planet continues to heat up.

But the money for the provisions to reduce the pollution that fuels climate change is only a fraction of the $ 2 trillion Mr Biden has pledged to spend. The White House sees the bipartisan measure, which includes $ 550 billion in new spending, as a first step towards passing a separate $ 3.5 trillion bill that Democrats hope to pass this fall on the basis of the party line, despite the objection of the Republicans.

Democrats intend to incorporate important climate programs into this second bill, including a provision that would essentially pay electric utilities to generate power from clean sources, and incentives tax for consumers to buy electric vehicles.

“As a climate policy, it’s an aperitif,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, of the package unveiled Wednesday. “It’s not the main course.”

Mr Schatz, who pushed Mr Biden to meet his ambitious climate commitments, called the measure’s climate provisions “good” and noted that Republicans and Democrats now agree on the need to protect parts of the country from the devastation. climate-induced droughts, storms and floods. But he cautioned: “If all we do is nibble on the edges and put resilience programs in place, we are not solving climate change. We are simply responding to the fact that we are not solving climate change.

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Several Republicans, who walked out of a Wednesday afternoon meeting with blue binders containing a 30-page summary of the bill, said they still had questions. They said they wanted to see legislative language – which lawmakers say could grow to around 700 pages – before committing to voting for the package.

“It’s a good-sized stack of paper,” said Republican Senator John Boozman of Arkansas.

The bipartisan bill would spend $ 7.5 billion on the first federal effort to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the country. That doesn’t come close to the $ 174 billion Mr. Biden wants to spend to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.

But it is intended to jump-start an important part of its climate agenda – reducing pollution from vehicle exhaust pipes, the country’s biggest source of greenhouse gases.

The bill would spend $ 5 billion to provide low-emission, electric school buses to communities, replacing traditional yellow, diesel-powered school buses.

It would spend $ 39 billion to modernize the country’s public transport systems, including replacing many highly polluting diesel buses with zero or low pollution electric buses.

And it would spend $ 50 billion to make communities more resilient to both cyber attacks and the impacts of climate change, although neither lawmakers nor the White House have specified how that money will be divided or spent. Last year, the United States experienced 22 extreme weather and climate disasters, where losses exceeded $ 1 billion each.

The legislation provides $ 73 billion for upgrading and upgrading the country’s electricity grid, which would allow thousands of kilometers of new transmission lines to be built to carry more energy produced by wind, solar and electricity. other zero emission sources. And that would create a new office within the Department of Energy to help get permits and finance transmission lines.

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It would spend $ 55 billion to ensure that all Americans have access to safe drinking water by replacing all lead pipes and service lines across the country.

The bill also injects $ 21 billion into cleaning up toxic pollution, especially in communities of color, as well as funds to reclaim abandoned mines and cover orphan gas wells, which emit methane and gas. other pollution.

Mr Biden has pledged to cut U.S. emissions by roughly half by 2030 and is facing pressure to demonstrate progress towards that goal when world leaders meet for a crucial summit on the climate change in Glasgow in November. Analysts noted that the bipartisan package alone is not close to moving the country forward towards Mr Biden’s goal, but called it an important step.

“I don’t think President Biden is going to Glasgow with just that,” said Joshua Freed, senior vice president for climate and energy at research and advocacy group Third Way. Mr Freed said he was confident the Democrats’ second package, crammed with climate change provisions, would either be finished or almost finished by the time of the summit.

“Moving the United States is like moving a huge cruise liner,” he said, “and it’s an absolutely essential set of steps to build momentum.”

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