What We’re Watching in Reconciliation

Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz

Through the process known as budget reconciliation, Congress is now considering significant investments in climate action that could supercharge economic and job growth. With so many moving pieces, it can be difficult to know what to watch for, which is why we’ve homed in on four key questions to ask as the process unfolds.

EDF staff will also be weighing in on key developments as they happen, and you can read those comments in a new, regularly updated blog post you can read here.

Will the package put us on track to meet our climate goal of reducing climate pollution 50-52% by 2030?

Back in April, President Biden announced that the U.S. would strive to reduce emissions by 50-52% relative to 2005 levels by 2030 as part of our commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change. As the latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change makes clear, we do not have time to waste to reach this goal. Climate change is here and the effects are already being felt across the country and the world.

In accordance with this pledge, the President and Congress have made tackling climate change a key pillar of the bill that’s moving through Congress, and indeed climate provisions were infused throughout the reconciliation instructions that were passed in August.

Here at EDF we’ve said it again and again (and again, for good measure): driving down emissions in the power and transportation sectors is critical for success in the fight against climate change. We need Congress to deliver a suite of investments that will put the U.S. on track to reduce power sector emissions by 80% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels and accelerate vehicle electrification to the point that 100% of all new car sales are zero-emissions in 2035 and all new sales of trucks and buses are zero-emissions by 2040.

What we’re watching for

  • A robust suite of clean energy tax credits that delivers long-term, flexible, and accessible incentives for clean electricity deployment, manufacturing, and supporting technologies like energy storage and transmission, as well as electric vehicles.
  • A program that accelerates utilities’ transformation to clean power, helps drive down power sector emissions by 80% by 2030 and ensures that they stay on track to meet those commitments.
  • Increased funding for zero-emission school buses and zero-emission port operations, as well as incentives to bring down the cost of zero-emission vehicles, particularly for low-income and pollution-burdened communities, and small businesses.
  • Increased funding for infrastructure that supports increased adoption of all types of zero-emissions vehicles and does so in a way that provides grid and environmental benefits and ensures equity.
  • Investments in quickly driving down the emissions of methane, an ultra-potent greenhouse gas with large potential to slow the rate of global warming.

What kinds of jobs and economic opportunities will be created?

The fact that President Biden named his COVID recovery plan the American Jobs Plan makes the administration’s priority clear: creating millions of new, high-quality jobs. The President realizes that investing in the country’s clean energy industries and Americans’ boundless capacity for innovation is a winning strategy for achieving the goal. As we’ve said before, investing in these growing industries today will help us rebuild a stronger and more resilient economy here at home, while also positioning the United States to be a leader in the rapidly expanding global clean energy market.

What we’re watching for

  • Strategic investment in domestic manufacturing and supply chain resilience, to ensure that we can make solar cells, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and more right here in America and supply the world’s growing demand for clean energy.
  • Strong labor standards to ensure that investments in clean energy and manufacturing create and sustain well-paying union jobs.
  • Investment in scientific and technological innovation to develop and commercialize the essential solutions we need to meet our climate goals, such as zero-emissions steel production, and create new industries in the United States.
  • Investments that create demand for domestic clean industries by leveraging federal purchasing power to, for example, electrify federal vehicle fleets or build government-funded infrastructure with low-carbon cement.
  • Proactive investments in communities historically dependent on fossil fuels to ensure that they benefit from jobs and opportunities created in the clean energy economy, even as we reduce our dependency on coal, oil, and gas.
  • Investment in energy efficiency programs for buildings and industry, which provide large potential in both job creation and greenhouse gas reductions.
  • Creation of a Civilian Climate Corps and investment in natural climate solutions, such as reducing the risk of wildfire through prescribed burning and biomass removal.
  • Investment in rural counties, where the per capita job creation is often greatest (particularly in CA, TX, NM, MO, WY, MA and NV).

How will Congress implement the President’s Justice40 initiative?

Low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of the burden of a changing climate. Many of these communities are facing yet another crisis—the cumulative burden of chronic exposure to higher-than-average levels of health-harming pollutants as a result of living in close proximity to industrial facilities, highways, ports, and other major sources of air and water pollution. The result is long-standing and persistent racial and environmental injustice.

When President Biden released his plan for building back better, he announced that addressing these injustices would be a priority and that 40% of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments included in the plan would be targeted to disadvantaged communities. It has come to be known as the Justice40 Initiative.

What we’re watching for

Environmental justice must be prioritized in reconciliation in order to ensure low-income communities and communities of color are not disproportionately impacted by either ongoing pollution or the policies intended to combat climate change. Instead, these communities must be involved in developing the solutions and policies, which must, in turn, be implemented equitably throughout the country. That’s why President Biden’s Justice 40 agenda is so vital.

Justice40 initiatives are already underway throughout the executive branch, but it remains to be seen if and how Congress will implement the President’s pledge in the reconciliation package. While the bipartisan infrastructure package includes some investments that would contribute to the Justice40 goal, most groups agree that much more will be needed in reconciliation to ensure just and equitable outcomes for environmental justice communities.

From involving local communities in decision-making to ensuring that the benefits of the clean energy transition are felt first and foremost in the communities that have historically borne the brunt of pollution, we’ll be watching to see how Congress translates the President’s pledge into action.

What will the bill mean for public health?

The impacts of extreme weather, air pollution and COVID-19 often fall on the same communities, resulting in overlapping burdens, compounding already existing health disparities. The COVID-19 crisis clearly highlighted the critical role that the government plays in safeguarding public health. The reconciliation bill offers an important opportunity to advance public health both generally and as it relates directly to climate and the environment.

Investing in a clean environment is a win-win when it comes to public health, since many of the most significant sources of climate pollution and environmental harm are the very same sources that are sickening people across the country with health-harming and inequitable local air pollution. For example, 1 in 5 of all new childhood asthma cases are attributable to traffic related air pollution. Congress is considering a wide range of health-related provisions, many of which do not directly intersect with EDF’s environmental advocacy. We’ll highlight the bill’s key health provisions that do intersect with climate, the environment, and environmental justice.

What we’re watching for:

We’ll be watching to see where Congress takes advantage of opportunities to score critical win-wins for the environment and public health. In particular, we’ll be keeping an eye out for:

  • Investments that will help clean up the air we breathe by allowing us to better monitor air quality and replacing dirty power plants and vehicles with cleaner alternatives.
  • Investments that improve access to clean, safe drinking water by replacing lead pipes and making our water systems more resilient.
  • Investments that help us prepare for and withstand natural disasters, which scientists say are likely to get worse with climate change.
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