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U.S. Democrats Debate Climate Policy, Introduce Green Infrastructure Measures as Fall Election Approaches

With the U.S. federal election just 131 days away, climate and clean energy are poised to take centre stage in the campaign, with Democrats debating climate policy and calling for US$70 billion in green infrastructure investment, renewables and storage industries pushing for a “majority renewables” electricity system by 2030, and even some Republicans trying to connect their fall campaign to green jobs.

Reuters reports the Democrats aren’t as united on climate policy as they may have seemed just a month ago, when Green New Deal architect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Obama-era secretary of state John Kerry agreed to co-chair a climate policy task force on behalf of presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden. But Bloomberg Green says Biden is tying climate policy to the struggle for racial equality, while The Hill and the Washington Post have Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives angling for a $1.5-trillion infrastructure bill that includes $70 billion for renewable energy and $500 billion in transportation funding with climate conditions attached.

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Meanwhile, Greentech Media sees the U.S. solar, wind, energy storage, and hydropower industries ushering in a “new era of cooperation between their sectors, with the goal of bringing renewables to constitute a majority of electricity generation sources by 2030”. And at least one Republican, Indiana State Senator John Ruckelshaus, is urging his party to get behind the state’s fast-growing advanced energy sector, bringing relief to a jurisdiction that has lost 550,000 jobs due to the pandemic.

The tensions in the Democratic camp emerged earlier this month when the Environment and Climate Crisis Council formed last year by the Democratic National Committee released a platform proposal calling for up to $16 trillion to “shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels while banning hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas exports,” Reuters writes. “The council’s proposals far exceed Biden’s current climate plan, which bans new oil and gas permits on public lands and dedicates $1.7 trillion to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, but allows continued fracking and exports in the meantime.”

“It’s a non-starter,” an unnamed Democrat familiar with the DNC’s workings said of the council report. “Nobody takes them seriously. Joe Biden will be writing the platform for our national convention.” 

“They acted like insurgents within the party trying to stake out a left flank before the convention,” added another unnamed Reuters source.

Biden “faces the challenge of winning over his party’s progressive wing with ambitious climate proposals while at the same time not alienating swing voters in states like Ohio and his native Pennsylvania, where he grew up,” the Bloomberg writes. “He doesn’t support a ban on fracking, and has indicated he sees a future role for fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Still, he has called for banning new oil and gas projects on public lands and waters and for putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions.”

Last week, the candidate told the League of Conservation Voters that climate and pollution are “not just an environmental issue,” vowing to defend communities of colour “where people, in fact, tend to be victims of being put in spots where the water is not clean, the air you can’t breathe,” Bloomberg says.

Democrats’ Congressional action came after “environmentalists and environmentally-minded Democrats in Congress” called for more support for a clean energy sector that has lost 620,000 jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, the Post writes. “The infrastructure bill, called the Moving Forward Act, extends a tax break for onshore wind developers for five years and one for solar developers for six years,” the paper adds. “It would also allow those renewable energy companies to receive the credits as direct payments, rather than only being able to use them to lower their tax burden. “

That shift will matter, the paper adds, “since solar and wind farm backers may not make enough money from other investments during the downturn for a lower tax bill to be worthwhile.”

In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) called the bill “the largest tax investment in combating climate change Congress has ever made,” The Hill writes, with funding for public transportation, congestion relief, transit access for poor neighbourhoods, zero-emission buses, electrified postal vehicles, energy retrofits in schools and other large buildings, methane controls, and clean-up of abandoned oil wells. But Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee complained they were left out of the drafting of the bill.

“We were not given the opportunity to address any of our priorities in this legislation,” said ranking member Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO). He claimed the legislation “will leave rural America even further behind, and numerous new green mandates and extreme progressive goals are woven throughout.”