By Jonathan Lacock-Nisly, IPL Federal Policy Associate
Members of Congress are back from their summer recess, and entering the home stretch on what has the potential to be the biggest climate bill ever passed into law.
A quick-ish review of the timeline
The bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R.3684, which includes some positive provisions, but is not a climate bill) passed the Senate in August. Progressive champions in the House, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have held that bill and say they won’t bring it up for a vote until the rest of the President’s agenda is ready to pass at the same time through a budget reconciliation bill.
That budget reconciliation bill, now called the Build Back Better Act, is the place we can make significant progress on climate change and environmental justice priorities. House committees finished work on their respective sections of the bill and passed those pieces out of committee on September 15th. (Many thanks to all of the IPL affiliates who did great work planning actions and driving calls ahead of that important deadline!)
Now, the House will look to pass their Build Back Better Act on the House floor and send it to the Senate, where there will be significant debate and revisions before the Senate passes their own version. That Senate version of the Build Back Better Act will go back to the House for what likely will be an up-or-down vote with no further chance for revision. At that point, the House will also pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill that they’ve been waiting to move. And all of this is supposed to happen before September 27th, based on a complicated set of promises between moderates and progressives, as well as the expiration of the current surface transportation law at the end of the month.
What’s in the House version of Build Back Better (No bill number yet)
There’s a lot of good news here, although all with a huge caveat. House committees have passed their sections of the bill, and it includes almost all of IPL’s priorities. However, disagreements remain over how the bill should be funded. And even once those questions are answered in the House, the bill faces a much tougher path in the Senate, with Democratic moderates (most notably Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Krysten Sinema (AZ)) expressing doubt about the size and scope of the bill.
For today, however, let’s list the highlights. This bill, in combination with state-level action, would put the US on track to meet President Biden’s goal of cutting climate pollution 50% by 2030. House committees approved:
-Clean Electricity Performance Program: This is the latest name change for what started as the Clean Electricity Standard. Through a system of payments for clean electricity and penalties for dirty electricity, this program would put us on track for 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030—the intermediate target for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.
We also have (the House’s) answer for what constitutes clean electricity. Unfortunately, their definition does include nuclear and fossil fuels with carbon capture. IPL will keep advocating for truly clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but it is worth noting that advocates (including IPL) were successful in keeping methane gas from receiving partial credit as a “clean” source under the House proposal. A recent meta-analysis found that even with this less-than-desirable definition of clean electricity, the program would ensure that almost all new generation in the US in the coming decade is in the form of wind, solar, and batteries.
-Clean electricity tax credits: The tax credits that have helped fuel the boom in wind and solar electricity over the past decade were scheduled to start phasing out at the end of this year. Instead, they will be expanded and extended into the 2030s.
-Lead pipe removal: President Biden had listed removing every lead pipe across the country as a key environmental justice provision of his agenda. Yet the bipartisan infrastructure bill fell far short, funding only $15 billion of a needed $45 billion. The House’s version of Build Back Better closes the gap, with an additional $30 billion for lead pipe removal.
-Electric vehicles: The bill pushes the tax credit for electric vehicles up to $12,000 and eliminates the vehicle cap for manufacturers (which means that GM and Tesla vehicles will again qualify for the credit). It also includes $13.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, on top of funds provided in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
-More environmental justice provisions: The bill includes $2.5 billion for low-income solar projects, $5 billion in grants available to communities for environmental justice projects, and $10 billion for cleanup of Superfund sites. It also includes an additional $4 billion beyond funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill for reconnecting communities divided by interstates, in recognition of the racist highway planning processes that have disproportionately harmed Black communities. It is disappointing, however, that the climate and environmental provisions of the bill do not uniformly meet the President’s promise that 40% of benefits would go to environmental justice communities. IPL will keep pushing for lawmakers to meet this minimum target.
-Civilian Climate Corps: It’s difficult to track the funding scattered across several different federal jobs programs, but it seems that a Civilian Climate Corps—intended to put Americans to work at jobs that help the country reduce climate pollution and adapt to a warming world—is included in this version of the bill.
-Methane fee: One way the bill helps pay for itself is by putting a fee on methane pollution. This, in combination with EPA and Bureau of Land Management rules currently in the works to directly restrict methane emissions, can make a big dent in this climate super polluter.
Thanks again to all the IPL affiliates raising up the faith voice on this bill and keeping the pressure on our members of Congress! We wouldn’t have made it this far without the work of so many faithful advocates across the country, and we need you all in the coming weeks to get across the finish line.