“Winners make policy. Losers go home,” snarled Mitch McConnell, the alleged senior senator from Kentucky, in 2017. He is so right. Reactionaries lost the last election and now actual adults have their hands on the levers of power. Flowery speeches and pious pronouncements are all fine and dandy during campaigns, but money is where policy transitions into action. Joe Biden’s proposed first budget seeks to inject a strong dose of sanity into America’s response to an overheating planet at every level of government.
Roll Call says, “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.”
The funding would go to the usual agencies — Energy, EPA, and Commerce, Interior, and Transportation — but also to several other branches of the federal government that are not ordinarily viewed as part of the climate change response. Shalanda Young, acting director of the budget office, says the Biden administration is taking a “whole-of-government” approach to fighting climate change.
The Usual Suspects
The Biden budget would create a new initiative within the Energy Department known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Climate. It would buttress the existing ARPA-E program and benefit from $1 billion in initial funding. Also within the Energy Department, the budget proposal calls for $1.9 billion to create an emissions-free electricity network by 2035, $8 billion for “clean energy” technologies, and $7.4 billion for basic scientific research. Investments in clean energy and efficiency would support “a historic energy efficiency and clean electricity standard that would transform the electric sector to be carbon pollution free by 2035 and create good paying union jobs,” the budget proposal says, according to a report by E&E News.
Over at EPA, which was devastated by budget cuts and climate deniers during the previous administration, the proposed budget calls for $1.8 billion for programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a sizable proportion of the agency’s total budget.
The Unusual Subjects
As part of that “whole of government” approach, the budget allocates $600 million for electric vehicle incentives and charging infrastructure spread across 18 federal agencies, including “dedicated funds” for the General Services Administration, which owns or leases 200,000 motor vehicles. Some of that money could be used to provide more electric vehicles for the critically underfunded United States Postal Service.
$250 million will go toward 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% increase. It calls on Congress to provide $2.7 billion for Amtrak, which has struggled during the pandemic to fill its seats. The proposal also asks 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 Biden budget asks for money to invigorate the Green Climate Fund, a proposal that could figure prominently in the administration’s planned international climate summit on April 22. The budget would provide $1.2 billion to the fund, on top of $100 million for climate adaptation programs abroad and $485 million for other international climate initiatives.
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 and 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.
The military is not forgotten in the budget proposal, which says it is “vital to national security that U.S. military installations” are “resilient to climate-induced extreme weather.” The administration supports “efforts to plan for and mitigate impacts of climate change and improve the resilience of DOD facilities and operations.” That is the polar opposite of the prior administration, which specifically forbid the inclusion of resiliency in the planning for any federal projects.
Interior would get $200 million for conservation purposes, including establishing a Civilian Climate Corps that will employ members of the public in land use related jobs. The administration plans to include 30% of the nation’s land and waterways as federally protected areas, a provision that will stir outrage from right-wing fringe groups. Interior will 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. Of course, the people who created those abandoned mines and wells should pay the clean up costs, but in America, freedom means never having to pay for bad behavior.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $800 million in funding for climate research, including money for more satellites to monitor changes in the environment. The Agriculture Department will receive $1.7 billion for forest resilience projects and $400 million for rural electricity companies to help decarbonize their utility grids by 2035.
The first question anyone will have is, who is going to pay for all this? The reactionaries who couldn’t wait to raid the federal treasury over the past 4 years are now the fierce budget hawks they pretended to be before they seized control of the government. Getting this budget passed will be a Herculean task. But as Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Lab, tells Roll Call, “Human activity is driving climate change. 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.”
The reactionaries like to pretend we have all the time in the world. We do not. We have about 8 years to severely limit carbon emissions before the increase in average global temperatures begins spiraling out of control. Wise investments in infrastructure and clean energy will power an economic expansion greater than the one that occurred after the end of World War II. We can’t go back to the 1800s, much as many people might like to. We have to be adults and deal with things as they are, not as we might wish them to be.
America has abdicated its leadership role in the world community. Biden seeks to reassert America’s position on the world stage, but will need the support of every citizen to make that happen. The Apollo program was all well and good, but it was more about projecting political power than caring for civilization. The Biden program may be the single biggest government lift in human history. We can’t afford to fail, especially when success will bring unimaginable prosperity. The Biden budget is the plan. Now it needs to be implemented. It’s time to get started.