Biden focuses on climate in latest push for Build Back Better, infrastructure plans

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So, yes, finally setting the nation on a course to do something about climate change would be in order about now. Biden needs to enlarge his retinue on these disaster trips to include Sen. Joe Manchin, who is still pitching fits over the idea of spending money. According to Axios’ sources, he’s “privately” grousing and insisting $1.5 trillion is as high as he will go. According to Axios, he’s finally identified some things he doesn’t like in the proposal, particularly $400 billion to boost caregivers for the elderly and disabled.

Which demonstrates just how not smart Manchin can sometimes be. Data for Progress polling in late spring in West Virginia found strong majority support for the whole of Biden’s proposal (58% to 36% in opposition) and 64/28 support for the caregiving component. Even 60% of that state’s Republicans said that the investment in caregiving would create economic growth and opportunities. Data for Progress has fresh national polling on the plan and finds 80% support for the long-term care component, with just 12% opposition.

So Manchin picked one of the most widely supported parts of the plan to call “too big.” It’s almost enough to make one think Manchin hasn’t really spent a whole lot of time analyzing what is in the bill and just picked the first thing that popped into his head. He also doesn’t like the idea of just anybody getting the enhanced Child Tax Credit or free community college or universal preschool, also hugely popular parts of the bill. It’s also possible that Manchin is doing a head fake on these programs when his real problem is with what Biden is spending so much time this week on—addressing climate change.

Manchin’s big problem, all along, has been with the reality that if this nation doesn’t cut carbon production dramatically and soon, any kind of recovery from global warming is going to be out of reach. That could be because Manchin makes an awfully nice living from his investments in the fossil fuel industry.

So far, Biden is blowing off Manchin’s posturing, saying, “Joe at the end has always been there.” He continued, “He’s always been with me. I think we can work something out. I look forward to speaking with him.” Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have brushed aside Manchin’s posturing and calls for delay in moving the bill.

In fact, Biden is pushing further on climate goals, calling for a more than ten-fold increase in the U.S. solar production of electricity. On Wednesday, the administration announced the goal of producing 45% of the nation’s energy from the sun by 2050. Currently, solar produces about 4% of the nation’s electricity. That goal is what climate scientists say is necessary to get greenhouse gas emissions down to net-zero by 2050—the end date for salvaging a sustainable environment. Such an ambitious goal also means jobs in research and development in the best solar technologies, manufacturing, and installation and maintenance.  

Already, the solar industry alone employs more than 231,000 Americans. That’s the message more than 700 solar companies sent to Congress Wednesday in support of the Biden initiative. “The science is clear: we must rapidly decarbonize the electric grid to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, and the solar Investment Tax Credit is the most effective policy we have to drive solar deployment in the United States,” said SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “The ITC is also a proven job creator, and after years of policy whiplash, it’s time that we give clean energy businesses the policy certainty they need to clean up our grid and create the millions of jobs necessary to build an equitable clean energy economy.”

“We know this: the broken, outdated clean energy financing system is delaying us from fully decarbonizing America’s electric grid,” said Dr. Tom Buttgenbach, founder and CEO of 8minute Solar Energy. “We also know that climate disasters will worsen and continue to cause more harm to our society and economy. That is why we strongly encourage the government to extend the ITC with 100% direct pay, which will unleash capital for clean energy, and help the solar industry spur millions of jobs and combat climate change.”

While huge chunks of Biden’s initial plans for addressing climate were sacrificed at the altar of bipartisanship in the hard infrastructure bill largely negotiated by Republicans,  it’s not too late to make up for it in the larger reconciliation bill. Passing it will lay the groundwork for the massive work that still has to be done, like passing Biden’s solar plans.