While the spending figure needs to be much higher, there is scope to keep up the pressure, both from domestic groups as well as international entities
On Wednesday this past week, United States President Joe Biden released his $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan and it has been touted as the Democrats’ “primary opportunity to move green priorities”.
But even though the Biden administration has packed all of its lofty climate promises into this one bill, it falls far short of the ambition required to rapidly decarbonise the economy of the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases.
Titled the American Jobs Plan, it covers several infrastructural areas including water systems, transportation, clean energy and climate research, with an aim to “upgrade our nation’s [the US’] infrastructure, revitalise manufacturing, invest in basic research and science, shore up supply chains and solidify our care infrastructure”.
There are positives to note, particularly in the realm of clean energy — it calls for $100 billion of investment in the electric grid, plugging orphan oil and gas wells, cleaning up abandoned mines and creating clean energy jobs. This is in line with President Biden’s campaign promise of 100 per cent carbon-free electricity for the US by 2035.
An amount of $35 billion is also allocated towards climate and clean energy research including areas such as utility-scale energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and floating offshore wind. While this has global benefits, it is also a means to stay ahead of countries like China who are rapidly developing their science and technology capacity and eating into the US’ share.
Typical funding mechanisms for such plans tend to be through higher government borrowing (ie, a higher deficit), higher taxes on select groups or spending cuts in certain sectors. As Alexander Kaufman writes for The Huffington Post, unless the Biden administration cuts military spending or massively hikes taxes, the $2.25 trillion investment over eight years will require an increase in the federal deficit as they did in the case of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.
However, the administration plans to pay for its proposals over 15 years through higher taxes on corporations. This includes measures such as a proposed increase of the corporate tax rate to 28 per cent and preventing corporations from relocating to tax havens.
Thus, as Kaufman adds, the White House plan aims to offset its infrastructure spending with relatively modest new taxes in what appears to be a bid to win support from moderate Democrats for whom fiscal discipline is a key political theme.
But experts have stated that this plan does not invest even a fraction of what is necessary for the US to respond to the ongoing climate crisis. For starters, the spending would amount to roughly one per cent of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year.
A 2019 report by the Roosevelt Institute calculated that to decarbonise the US economy, public investment would need to much higher — to the tune of 3 to 5 per cent of US GDP.
The infrastructure bill was supposed to be Biden’s major opportunity to push through ambitious domestic climate legislation, owing to the absence of the same in previous bills such as the American Rescue Plan signed into law earlier last month.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leader in the movement for a Green New Deal, commented, “This is not nearly enough. The important context here is that it’s $2.25T spread out over 10 years. For context, the COVID package was $1.9T for this year *alone,* with some provisions lasting two years. Needs to be way bigger.”
The plan will now be passed to Congress, where it will be dissected via lengthy negotiations.
“We’re just orders of magnitude lower than where we need to be,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, speaking to US media outlet NPR. “And I think that that fight over the scale and scope of what needs to happen in terms of employment and the creation of jobs, in terms of the scale of investment and the urgency is going to be a terrain of struggle as this plan gets debated and discussed in Congress,” she added.
But Prakash is optimistic that the voices of grassroots climate advocates will continue to influence the administration, adding, “I think this is a moment where our movement demands and the way we have communicated about this crisis, the connection to jobs, the connection to justice, is making its way into mainstream politics. And it is a huge victory for all of us.”
So while the spending figure needs to be much higher, there is scope to keep up the pressure, both from domestic groups as well as international entities, should the global climate community choose to do so.
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