Hurricane Ida. Dixie Wildfire. Worst megadrought in centuries. Severe flooding across Europe. And that was just summer 2021. You do not have to be a climate scientist to know that we have a huge problem. The warming of the planet is wreaking havoc in all sorts of ways, with our economy suffering in its wake. Inaction is no longer a choice.
The climate reforms in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Build Back Better Framework (BBB) reflect this reality. Combined, this is the largest effort to combat climate change in American history.
Shifting to a cleaner energy system will pay dividends by reducing the immediate threats—and resulting costs—of extreme weather. As noted in a recent CEA brief, these reforms will not only help the planet, but will also expand the economy, deliver jobs across America, and promote equity.
This blog outlines just three of the many ways the legislation tackles climate change: improvements to the transportation sector that increase mobility and decrease emissions; investments in the power sector that enhance resilience and reduce emissions; and a focus on equity. Importantly, these provisions—alongside the other pieces of the climate agenda—lay the groundwork for future reform.
The science shows that a shift to electric vehicles (EV) will play a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions, a key cause of climate problems. In 2019, the transportation sector accounted for 29 percent of total carbon emissions. But, a major barrier to people’s reluctance to buy an EV is the relatively limited availability of charging stations. The legislation tackles this problem with a game changing investment in a national network of EV chargers. As President Biden noted in his speech outlining the BBB framework, people want a car they can drive across the country in.
EVs are also relatively expensive. The legislation tackles that by increasing the EV tax credit from $7,500 up to $12,500 for low- and middle-income consumers purchasing American-made, union-built, EVs. A hypothetical $32,000 EV will now be available at a price of $19,500.
EV investments are also economically important for workers. There are 2.9 million employees in the U.S. auto sector, and ensuring this industry can be globally competitive is crucial for supporting these jobs.
Finally, public transport is a key way to reduce emissions; one estimate finds that U.S. bus transit emits an estimated 33 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than the average U.S. personal vehicle. And, of course, investments in hybrid electric buses would further decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation makes the largest ever investment in public transit, modernizing and expanding transit and rail networks. This move will particularly benefit communities of color, who are especially likely to rely on public transportation.
The electric power sector accounts for around one fourth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions because it is largely fueled by coal and natural gas. Investments in clean power—such as electricity produced by solar and wind—should reduce that impact. The plan’s provisions include utility and residential clean energy tax credits, domestic supply chain and manufacturing investments, funding for rural clean electricity production, and research in advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture, and clean hydrogen.
Moreover, our current electric grid costs the U.S. economy around $55 billion a year. Without careful planning, these costs will grow due to the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events caused by climate change. Investments in electricity transmission can unleash the full potential of renewable energy by enabling more power to be delivered to urban centers from the windiest and sunniest parts of the country, making the economy more resilient. One estimate finds that modernizing the eastern U.S. transmission grid could reduce energy bills by at least a third. The package contains investments in energy transmission and infrastructure resilience to modernize an aging electric grid and to improve its reliability.
The effects of climate change and air pollution do not affect everyone equally. Low-income regions and individuals, as well as individuals and communities of color, are hit particularly hard, widening existing economic inequality. In one study, the poorest U.S. counties are projected to suffer median losses as a result of climate change that are 9.5 times larger than the richest counties. Moreover, communities of color have heightened pollution exposure and a higher prevalence of pollution-related diseases. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution through clean energy investment and bus and port electrification can thus help to stymy these inequitable impacts.
In addition, the legislation creates a Civilian Climate Corps, designed to employ a diverse group of young people to work—conserving public lands, promoting resilience, and advancing climate justice. The program’s efforts would help tackle two equity issues at once: providing stable, good-paying jobs for young workers, people of color, and workers without college degrees who have had a hard time finding employment during the pandemic; and assisting with the alleviation of climate change effects, which can disproportionately affect low-income areas.
No one wants a repeat of the summer of 2021. These investments advance climate resilience and reduce emissions. Along the way, the U.S. economy and its workers benefit. The legislation is a necessary down payment to begin the critical work of limiting the harms caused by climate change and making investments to prevent further damage. It is a crucial step toward our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 50 and 52 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.