Framework’s climate elements may keep emissions goals in reach

Experts say it appears to be the foundation of a significant bill that keeps the country’s climate goals attainable

Experts say the framework for electrification of transportation would help with emission reduction. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Experts say the framework for electrification of transportation would help with emission reduction. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 28, 2021 at 4:00pm

The climate and low-carbon energy elements in President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion budget reconciliation framework would likely fall short of what is needed for the U.S. to meet its emissions reduction goals even though the proposal is poised to be the largest climate legislation in the nation’s history, experts said.

Before heading to Italy and then the United Kingdom for back-to-back summits on climate change, Biden presented the outline for climate and social safety net proposals as well as $2 trillion in offsets, including an international tax agreement, more IRS enforcement of tax collection and a fee on corporate stock buybacks.

The agreement was not as aggressive as the administration had originally wanted, but experts said it appeared to be the foundation of a significant climate bill that keeps the country’s climate goals attainable.

“If Congress can deliver this, that keeps our climate goal within reach,” Trevor Higgins, senior director of domestic climate and energy policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, said in an interview.

Under Biden, the U.S. has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and many Democratic lawmakers said passage of the spending package before climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, conclude in mid-November would help underscore U.S. leadership in averting the worst effects of climate change in the coming decades. 

[Senate’s clean energy fight may vex Biden at climate conference]

“The next week is a critical week for President Biden, and for our leadership on the world stage as a country,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told reporters Monday.

Before the draft legislative text was released ahead of a 3 p.m. Rules Committee meeting, independent researchers and climate advocacy groups said the framework could lead to the most potent climate bill Congress has ever passed.

The key climate pillar in the framework is a suite of clean energy tax incentives worth $320 billion that would be in place for 10 years. Other climate elements include $105 billion in climate “resilience” efforts to blunt the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, and $110 billion for investments in clean energy technology, manufacturing and supply chains, the White House said in a summary of the deal.

And the deal includes $20 billion for the public sector to purchase low-emission energy sources.

“We are very pleased with the framework,” Lena Moffitt, campaigns director for Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group, said by phone. “It is absolutely needed and must pass,” she said, adding that it is not as ambitious as her group would have liked and is not sufficient to reach the U.S. climate targets on its own. “Both of those things are true.”

Sticks needed

Daniel Raimi, a fellow at the nonpartisan research organization Resources for the Future, said in an interview that the tax credits will help knock down emissions.

“These are a whole bunch of carrots to spur clean energy, but there are no sticks to deter fossil energy,” Raimi said. “Without sticks, it’s really hard to achieve the emissions goal that the administration has set,’ he said, adding that cutting emissions from the transportation sector, the highest-emitting sector in the U.S. economy, is difficult without disincentives. “Without sticks, it’s really hard to get emission reductions in transportation.”

Princeton University engineering professor Jesse Jenkins said on Twitter that the White House was accurate in calling the deal the “largest effort to combat climate change in American history.”

Jenkins said the deal would likely “deliver the necessary emissions reductions to put the U.S. on track for (or at least well within reach of) Biden’s 2030 climate pledge to reach 50 percent below 2005 emissions.”

“This is a massive step forward,” Ryan Fitzpatrick of ThirdWay, a centrist think tank, said in an interview, adding that elements in the deal that focus on the supply chain and the industrial sector could translate to jobs.

“There’s going to be a strong focus here on manufacturing,” he said. “This is going to benefit rural areas. This is going to benefit manufacturing in rural and suburban areas.”

Like other energy experts, Fitzpatrick said this bill is unlikely on its own to reach the emissions reduction goals that climate scientists say are necessary to thwart ecological collapse.

But he and others said augmenting this bill with new energy, climate and environmental rules, in particular on automobiles, places the country “on a path” to hitting its targets.

Raimi, of RFF, said this framework would provide Biden something to mark as noteworthy in addressing climate change.

“I think he’ll be going to Glasgow with a win,” he said.