Big Build Back Better

Photo: Screenshot Biden Campaign Climate Plan

To make good on its Build Back Better promise, the Biden administration is considering a very big infrastructure bill — spending could be as much as $300 billion a year for 10 years or $3 trillion total — with much of it going to update energy infrastructure to make it “cleaner” and also for the energy grid, roads, bridges, and water pipes and sewer upgrades to make them safer and more climate-resilient, several major media outlets are reporting.  And despite some who are skeptical of its size, there seems to be big support for going big, including from The Chamber of Commerce, the American Manufacturing Association, and the League of Conservation Voters, which don’t always agree on such things.

Why This Matters:  Americans, according to recent polling by Yale University’s climate communications project, overwhelmingly want to see Congress and the administration take bold action on climate change.  Members of Congress could be persuadable — in a little-discussed move, the Congress is now willing to allow “earmarks” for projects — so Members can ensure that their districts get a share of the benefits of all this spending.  Both parties (Republicans voted by secret ballot) supported restoring earmarks and maybe that will mean the long-awaited, infrastructure bill finally has a chance.

Green Groups Say Go Big

Here is what the major ones are saying:

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin suggested back in January that spending as much as $4 trillion on infrastructure would be acceptable because infrastructure is a priority, and that led Sunrise to say, “At this point, [President] Biden should realize that if his proposal is milder than what Joe Manchin is calling for, it does not go far enough,” Sunrise Movement spokesperson Ellen Sciales said in a statement yesterday.

Ben Beachy, director of the Sierra Club’s Living Economy Program, said “there are precious few moments when all the requirements for big structural change line up — broad public support, strong organizing, elected leaders we can work with and cross movement unity. Now is one of those unicorn moments where those ingredients for big structural change are in fact lining up.”

LCV wants Congress to spend $2 trillion on climate-related efforts in the legislation, with priorities in economic recovery, reducing emissions and addressing racial disparities caused by pollution and climate change, according to their leg directior, Matt Davis, who said “This infrastructure package is our best, last chance of making sure that we tackle the climate crisis.”

Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, NRDC’s lead on infrastructure wants to see something bold, saying “The biggest piece is just addressing the inequities built into our infrastructure system overall, making investments that will cut carbon pollution, and build in a way that ensures that we don’t leave our investments vulnerable to severe weather conditions.”

Earmarks Again

In order to keep things from getting too porky — the lawmakers put sideboards on the use of earmarks — they must each publicly disclose the earmark, include a written justification for the project and verify that they have no financial stake in it, among other requirements.  What kinds of projects would get an earmark?  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about this one involving untreated sewage that flows into Pittsburgh’s famous “three rivers” because its aging sewer system is too expensive for the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority to repair — the fixes are estimated to cost more than $2 billion.  Republican and Democratic Representatives supported lifting the earmarks ban because, as one Republican put it, “Congressionally directed spending allows representatives to more effectively serve their districts and fulfill their constitutional power of the purse.”

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