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Biden weaves climate crisis throughout his budget outline

The request follows warnings that in 2020 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was the highest ever recorded

Federal research on carbon-free energy sources like wind get a big boost in President Joe Biden’s budget outline.
Federal research on carbon-free energy sources like wind get a big boost in President Joe Biden’s budget outline. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Biden administration underscored its focus on climate change in the first glimpse of its budget proposal, calling for tens of billions of dollars in new spending from Congress and framing the warming planet as a pervasive threat that seeps into daily life in myriad ways.

Released Friday, President Joe Biden’s budget request for $1.52 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal year 2022 is separate from the White House’s roughly $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which also centers heavily on climate, low-carbon energy technology and decarbonization.

Peppered throughout a 61-page document from the White House budget office, the word climate appears 151 times — more than the terms “COVID-19”, “pandemic” and “infrastructure” combined.

The budget request comes on the heels of scientists’ warnings that in 2020 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit its highest point in recorded history and the level of methane in the atmosphere spiked sharply.

[Biden’s $1.5 trillion budget plan prioritizes domestic programs]

The Biden administration has set a goal for the U.S. to source all of its electricity from carbon-free fuels by 2035 and is convening an international climate summit in Washington in two weeks.

It is also poised, through the EPA and Transportation Department, to tighten fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles and is maneuvering to expand offshore wind power to 30,000 megawatts, enough to run 10 million homes, by 2030.

Previous cuts

“Responding to the climate crisis depends on helping communities transition to a cleaner future,” Shalanda Young, acting director of the budget office, said in a letter to congressional appropriators. “But instead of investing in climate science and technology at the Environmental Protection Agency, we’ve cut funding by 27 percent” since fiscal year 2010, she said, adding that Biden wants to “begin reversing this trend.”

Young said the administration, through its budget request, is taking a “whole-of-government” tack to fighting climate change.

The proposal funds federal agencies that have long focused on climate and environmental topics, namely the departments of Energy, Interior and Commerce, as well as the EPA.

Going beyond federal agencies typically focused on the environment, it also would fund climate-linked projects at bureaucracies including the departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Labor, the Pentagon, Small Business Administration and General Services Administration.

“It takes seriously the threat of climate change, the continuing scourge of the opioid epidemic, and the persistent crisis of mass gun violence in our country,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said of the proposal Friday.

Within Energy, the proposal calls for $1.9 billion to create an emissions-free electricity network by 2035, $8 billion for “clean energy” technologies, $7.4 billion for science and $1 billion to create and fund a new department called Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate. The agency would complement the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which is based on the military incubator division at the Pentagon.

Interior would get $200 million for conservation purposes, including establishing a Civilian Climate Corps — a Roosevelt-esque program to employ the public in land-related jobs — and to have 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters federally preserved by 2030, an administration goal.

DOI would also receive $200 million to scrutinize climate change and its relationship to wildfires and $450 million for a federal jobs program to clean up the tens of thousands of abandoned mines and oil and gas wells nationwide.

Home to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Commerce would get $800 million for climate research, while the Agriculture Department would get $1.7 billion for forest resilience projects, up from $476 million enacted in fiscal year 2021, and $400 million for rural electricity companies to cut help decarbonize their power sources by that 2035 target.

Electric travel

In its proposal, the White House reiterated its push to expand the use of electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure for their use.

The request seeks a combined $600 million for EVs and charging infrastructure in “the individual budgets” of 18 federal agencies, including “dedicated funds” at the General Services Administration for other agencies and at the United States Postal Service.

The GSA leases more than 200,000 cars, trucks, sport utility vehicles and buses, most of which run on gasoline.

Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget outline also includes $250 million for grants for transit agencies to purchase low- and zero-emission buses, more than double the amount provided in 2021, while transit sources overall would receive $2.5 billion, a 23 percent increase.

The White House calls on Congress to provide $2.7 billion for Amtrak, which has struggled during the pandemic to fill its seats. The request is a 35 percent increase over the 2021 budget, and the president also requested $625 million for a grant program for passenger rail.

The proposal also prods Congress to provide $815 million for climate resilience and disaster planning needs, $540 million more than the 2021 spending levels, and $2 billion for low-carbon construction jobs for welders, electricians and other laborers.

The National Institutes of Health would receive $110 million to study the health effects of climate change, a $100 million increase from enacted spending levels.

HUD would get $800 million for energy efficiency and climate resiliency efforts.

A program to be run by the departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs for military veterans to shift jobs to work in the low-carbon energy industry would get $20 million.

For the military, the spending outline says it’s “vital to national security that U.S. military installations” are “resilient to climate-induced extreme weather.”

The budget office said the administration supports “efforts to plan for and mitigate impacts of climate change and improve the resilience of DOD facilities and operations.”

As proposed, the Small Business Administration would get $10 million to help businesses transition from fossil fuels, brace for climate impacts or both.

Scientists at NOAA said Wednesday carbon dioxide and methane levels “surged” in 2020, despite lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at any time in the past 3.6 million years,” NOAA said, citing data from four monitoring observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa and the South Pole, as well as from volunteer samples at 50 other sites globally.

“Human activity is driving climate change,” said Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the Global Monitoring Lab, a wing of NOAA. “If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero — and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.”

NOAA said levels of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, “showed a significant jump” — the largest single increase in a year since measurements began in 1983.

Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.

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