Democrats Call Infrastructure Bill a Down Payment on Climate

Jul 28, 2021 · 77 comments
Barry Schiller (North Providence RI)
I'm torn between liking some progress and disliking its inadequacy. The highway spending, apparently not tied to fix-it-first seems likely to deepen our auto-dependency, even in Rhode Island our priorities are expanding highway capacity and this bill won't change that even as it worsens our climate and land use problems. I'm also annoyed at the fiscal irresponsibility of both parties as clearly this bill is not paid for, but Democrats blocked finally increasing the gas tax not raised for about 28 years, and the Republican blocked efforts to catch rich tax cheats. Sad!
Judgeboyajian10 (Fishkill)
Dinosaurs are alive today. Yes it’s true. The birds we see and hear everyday are the last of the dinosaurs. Do you believe in time travel. You should. Every time you look up at the night sky you are time traveling. The light of the stars has traveled for eons before reaching us so what you see now in the present is from the past. This is science. Don’t be afraid of science. Don’t hate science. Science is here to help you. Climate change is real.
Kip Hansen (On the move, Stateside USA)
It is somewhat unclear. No bill has as of today actually been passed by either House of Congress? This is all still in the talk stage?
Andrew Popper (Stony Brook NY)
Since the USA produces only about one eighth of the CO2, we can do little to change the total CO2 output. China is the main culprit by far. We can greatly increase our use of zero emissions nuclear power, especially by using the Thorium fuel cycle.
theskinny (Marquette)
@Andrew Popper Andrew, China currently emits more CO2 into the atmosphere, but for decades we emitted significantly more--all of which is still hanging in the atmosphere today. China does not doubt climate change and has been taking steps to reduce emissions. Unlike the U.S., China signed the Paris climate agreement.
Decarbonization (Engineer)
There is a great video that talks about how the United States government can solve the climate change problem by building factories that mass produce equipment that makes green energy. This seems like the Henry Ford approach to climate change. To see this video, type it's title into google search: How the US Gov't Can Solve the Climate Change Problem for $10B/yr
bl (rochester)
All this is but a small, baby step in the right direction. We shouldn't kid ourselves that it's anything more. I'll believe it when there is an actual Senate vote that passes a bill closely resembling this outline. It is hardly a done deal. Whatever actual bill, which manages to resemble this outlined plan and is approved by a Senate whose chicken deficit and/or inflation hawks will have roused themselves to grouse over whatever strikes their fancy, then needs to get through a House teeming with an impatient progressive caucus that is surely going to make its bitter disappointments known to all in as self righteous a manner as possible. It remains to be seen if that ends up leading to some form of self destructive maneuver that insists upon approving both this appetizer and main course at the same time, and which can then be exploited by mcconnell et al to incite much trumpican sturm und drang over the debt renewal in October and/or backing out of this deal. Such a scenario is surely something that the progressive caucus and mcconnell are capable of acting out in some bizarre and macabre dance of death. Meanwhile we can hardly expect there to be much in the way of a Voting Rights Act renewal effort to begin until after this infrastructure work, which only involves mere money issues, is finished. Voting Rights renewal involves very real issues of electoral power flexing. That is where the next real drama will play out.
Ann Onymous (The Untied Status of America)
I dearly hope hydrogen will be on the table, at least for the package that will be considered under budget reconciliation. Hydrogen is far more scalable than lithium battery power. We also need to accelerate research into an alternative battery chemistry - potassium. We have plenty of that.
Mark Battey (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
We have all been failed by our misleaders on the climate crisis so many times across the last half century, when they should have been getting the world off fossil fuels, that it is very difficult to have any confidence in them at all. The biosphere is more important than all the money and power that were ever in the world. It contains all the known life in the universe. We would not even exist without it. There would be no economy without it. Everything we do is utterly dependent on the environment.
stevew (Westchester)
Looking through the bill summary - there is no funding to address the US government past commitments to electric utilities to handle the reprocessing and storage of all nuclear spent fuel currently still located at all existing utility sites. A commitment by the federal government from over 40 years ago and never satisfied. No funding for new nuclear energy facilities, only $B for electric charging stations for cars but does not address past commitments for electric utilities infrastructure.
There for the grace of A.I. goes I (san diego)
The bill has lots of Waste in it...this was the best read of what this package contains =
Scientifically Minded (California)
This is pitiful. Climate action now!
Jeff (Northern California)
I can't believe this isn't front page news everyday. Everything ese is irrelevant when we have no place to live...
John Apel (Montrose, Colorado)
Let's hope the remaining of the "payments" needed to curb climate change come quickly. We're so far from where we need to be to lower emissions and reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
alan (MA)
To all those who are lamenting that this bill falls woefully short on climate change remember this. Reaching any goal requires that you take the first step. This is the first step.
stevew (Westchester)
How does the article identify what is in the bill when the republican state they do not have any written bill to identify what is in the bill?
Lillian K (California)
There are multiple public companies that install vehicle charging stations. In fact, I like the companies but haven't invested because they seem overvalued. There is too much investment money chasing this market. Do we really need the federal government to step in? The federal government should be investing where there is too much risk for sufficient private investment. Electric vehicle charging is not one of those areas. What we need the federal government to do is allow automatic permitting of all new transmission lines on federal land.
harvey wasserman (LA)
all the world's nuke reactors must shut before the next one explodes. they are ancient, under-maintained and heavily embrittled, meaning pouring cooling water into a core will cause it to blow. they all emit heat, carbon & radiation. they MUST be replaced with renewables asap.
Lillian K (California)
@harvey wasserman Is this a real comment? Nuclear energy has the lowest carbon footprint of any source of energy, even hydroelectric which requires huge amounts of concrete.
An Interested Observer (UK)
@Lillian K 'Nuclear energy has the lowest carbon footprint of any source of energy,' I would like to see a link to the figures that back that up
Incorporeal Being (here)
Nuclear power throws off waste that is extremely toxic for hundreds of thousands of years and we have no way to store it safely for even decades, much less hundreds of thousands of years. No nukes!
Corrie (Alabama)
Here’s an idea: forgive student loan debt equal to the purchase price of an electric vehicle. Cap it at something sensible, but make it large enough to help my generation to unburden ourselves. It would be sort of like Cash for Clunkers, but way better for the environment. If you did this, do you know how many people would be buying electric cars? These cars would be everywhere.
HL (Falls Church, Virginia)
@Corrie Or maybe getting a house down payment together or thinking about children — planning for a future not crushed by debts.
Rich D (Tucson, AZ)
It's not even window dressing in an attempt to address climate change. It is a joke. And now we hear today that Democratic Senator from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, says she will not support the President's $3.5 trillion bill he intends to pass via budget reconciliation, which does contain substantial money to begin addressing climate change. She has no excuse. She lives in Arizona and must know the devastating consequences of the historic drought we are living through here. She used to work for the Green Party! Anyone who has lived in the west for a substantial period of time has seen this magnificent country dry up, burn down and all but wither away. Our reservoirs are dry, our fields are fallow and the air is filled with smoke from burning fires half the year long. The climate scientists are even surprised at how quickly temperatures are rising, exceeding their worst case scenarios. It is a crime against not only humanity, but every living thing on earth to not address the most devastating problem man has ever created. And it is not a looming crisis - it is here right now. Many of us in the west have been yelling that at the top of our lungs now for years. I am an older person and I will not see the worst of climate change. Young people have every right to be beyond furious with the old, ignorant, greedy, entrenched, blind politicians who are doing nothing to save this planet for them and future generations. I stand with them.
stu freeman (brooklyn)
Just yesterday. some guy in Mar-a-Lago who spent four years promising a trillion dollar infrastructure bill but never actually coming up with one threatened to "primary" any Republican senator who dared vote to advance Biden's trillion dollar infrastructure bill. The fact that he ended up with 17 Republican senators effectively telling him where to go inspires a modicum of hope that his reign of terror over the GOP may finally be on the wane. Anyway, let's hope so.
110 billion for roads but only 39 billion for public transit and people are calling it a climate-friendly bill with a straight face? Even if we transitioned to all-electric vehicles, something we aren't on track to do until decades from now, cars still take an enormous toll on the environment. Certainly, we should invest in electric car infrastructure but if we really care about the environment we need fewer cars not just less harmful cars.
Doctor Woo (Orange, NJ)
They should appoint a secret watch dog to make sure the money gets to where it is supposed to go. Before it gets siphoned off at every level.
James Jordan (Falls Church,Va)
Thanks for this outstanding Davenport and Friedman report. It was helpful to know solutions that were acceptable to the Republicans. The picture selected by the Times was perfect because it shows trucks in the background which is crucial to the solution to the electric future. My colleagues and I have been trying to reach the White House and cabinet secretaries for Transportation, Commerce, and Energy who have the mission of meeting the challenge of climate change by investing in technologies that will build the economy "back better" by providing new jobs and creating electric technologies for the global markets as the world population continues to increase to 10 or 11 Billion. I have not had any requests for an interview to explain the proposal that we want to make to the White House Climate Change team but after a half-century of study of the problem, we have concluded that we should invest in testing and demonstrating the 3rd generation superconducting Maglev transport system invented by the late Drs. James Powell and Gordon Danby that was advocated by the late Senator Pat Moynihan who proposed that we use the rights-of-way of the highway system and railroads to build a 300 mph, all-electric, very efficient, zero-emissions national SC Maglev transport network for both passengers and carrying passengers. See: for the concept. The guideway would run through the lower 48 states and would provide affordable travel and lower costs of goods delivered.
Forrest Chisman (Stevensvile, MD)
So the bottom line is that that when it comes to climate change, the bipartisan bill is a bust -- tokenism at best, and not even that in some areas. But WE WILL DO BETTER in the Democrats only package and Manchin and Sinema will back it to the hilt. Sure. And I've got a bridge to Brooklyn I can sell you cheap. If Biden really wanted to do something on climate change he'd be all over the country pitching it. Instead he's pitching free stuff for blue collar workers in the hope the 2022 elections will go his way..
Antonin (France)
but isn't it crucial to win 2022 if he wants to push a larger package?
Jarid Manos (Texas)
Why not build distributed solar on rooftops and parking lots right where people live instead of spending tens of billions of dollars on building many thousands of miles of transmission lines from far away clean energy sources? We need zero emission energy across the board as soon as possible, but we can do this in new ways to ensure the utmost least negative impacts. There is an ecological impact to the siting of these sources as well as the transmission lines too if they go across wild habitats. (For example, Maine is fighting a new transmission line that would essentially broil brook trout in their streams when it cuts down the shading forest overhead as it crosses.) And from BBC: "Data from 2014 revealed that bird deaths from collisions with power lines in the US numbered 12 to 64 million." . New giant floating wind turbines have been developed that don't have to be anchored to the sea floor and could be placed off the East Coast where so much of the country lives, and the power lines laid underwater. Wind turbines can also be placed near urban centers, and wind turbines anywhere can be with the advanced designs to spin slower, with a higher torque, which is better for migrating birds and bats, and provide more power.
Tom Krebsbach (Washington)
If this bipartisan bill is passed along with the larger Democratic bill, Democrats will be well on their way to winning the election of 2022; that means gaining larger majorities in the House and the Senate. They will be able to say, "We worked with moderates in the GOP to realize a basic bipartisan infrastructure bill that has put many to work earning good wages. Then in addition we passed a large bill that makes life so much better for the vast majority of Americans. These bills will have a large impact in ameliorating the worst effects of the existential threat of global warming, something that Republicans don't even care to think about. Unlike Republicans who pass tax cuts for corporations and try to take your health insurance away from you, Democrats work hard to improve the lives of average Americans."
Patty (Pacific Northwest)
While I firmly believe that this is too little too late, it is a start. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Biden promised bipartisanship and he is delivering. He also promised climate action, and while this is minuscule, it is something and the next bill is yet to come.
Talal (Texas)
I am still confused as to why they are saying $1 trillion bill and then saying $550 in new spending. What am I missing here? Are the accounting for the Covid relief fund being repurposed?
Ockham9 (Norman, OK)
Senator Schatz has it exactly right. A bill that just remediates the effects of climate change isn’t sufficient; all it does is show that we are not responding to the root causes of climate change. Every business in this country should be telling its representative or senator to support a robust bill that puts us on a fast track to a carbon-free economy. Not doing so will increase the costs on businesses every year. I just got bids on a total roof replacement on my house, necessitated by a 15-minute storm in April that rained 3-in hailstones on our community, destroying every roof, totaling thousands of cars and trucks, damaging infrastructure. That came after a devastating one-week cold event in February and a catastrophic ice storm last October. The costs to insurance companies from any one of these events will be many millions of dollars. I cannot believe that any company will want to move into a future where these events become more frequent and more severe.
Sara (NYC)
It would have been a decent start... 30 years ago. Laughably too little, laughably too late. We're far beyond the point of down payments and closer to the point of foreclosure.
Evitzee (Texas)
Just virtue signalling to elites in mostly blue locales. Americans will not accept the realities of EVs when distance travel is concerned. I just finished a 5,000 mile road trip in states such as Montana and Wyoming and Colorado.....long distances between outposts and 600 miles were the norm. Gas and go in ten minutes and many gas plazas had 50 pumps, always occupied. EVs don't work in that environment. They might be fine for those that putt putt 25 miles a day to a suburban office, but to the real world they aren't ready for prime time. And the infrastructure (the power thing) just isn't going to happen anytime soon. Waste of money.
Eric (Seattle)
@Evitzee You haven't seen the newer EV's that can travel just as many miles one one charge as a gas car can on one tank. For the vast majority of the trips, plugging into the wall in your home garage is all you ever need. But for long road trips, there are public charging stations where you can plug in and charge in 30-60 minutes. 30-60 minutes may seem like a long time at first. But, remember, you're not just standing next to the car while it charges like you do when you pump gas. Rather, you plug in in the parking lot and, while the car is charging, you hop into an adjacent store or restaurant to shop or eat. Regardless of your car's power source, a 30-60 minute rest break after 250-300 miles of driving is good for your health anyway. And that doesn't even include the potential to charge overnight at the hotel, while you sleep. Of course, today, you're somewhat constrained in where you can charge and you're favorite restaurant might not be the one with a charging station. But, that's a solvable problem, and a problem that federal investment aims to address.
Thomas Anderson (North Branch, MN)
Traveled to Tacoma, WA from Minnesota last winter in our Tesla. Didn’t putt-putt at all and managed car charging just fine across the high plains. Amazing handling over slushy Lookout Pass. Average charge time was 20 minutes.
Robert (Out West)
I will, and I’m more of an American than you are.
Will electric school buses not be yellow?
Steve Dowler (Colorado)
@NB No, BLUE for electricity ;)
GTM (Austin TX)
A Journey of a Thousand Miles......
Bruce Rozenblit (Kansas City, MO)
This is very good news, but realistically, is only a drop in the bucket. Statements like 'this is the most ever spent....' when in the past we spent next to nothing and need to spend orders of magnitude more. But it's a start. There is one area that I can agree with the conservatives. Which is that the scientists have been consistently wrong. Yes, they have consistently underestimated the speed and severity of climate change. It is here now and it is essential that the next bill contain the spending that really needs to happen. The permafrost is thawing out, and the oceans are heating up and fast. These two can push us to a tipping point where climate runs away. The need is urgent and the need is now. The 'we can't afford it' argument is moot. We have to afford it. We no longer have a choice. So let's hope the Democrats can find the unity and strength to pass the big budget bill now. Otherwise, we will have to wait until at least two more Senators are elected that understand how serious this problem is. Perhaps they should load the bill up with so much pork for West Virginia and Arizona those Senators will vote yes. It's worked before.
Proud Liberal (Somewhere in US)
@Bruce Rozenblit Prominent scientists had never underestimated the speed and severity of global warming. Only fringe scientists hoping to make a name for themselves and given a forum by conservative outlets have distorted the truth. If you think conservatives are right on any climate related issue, you are ill informed.
Hugh Manbean (Dayton OH)
@Proud Liberal - I think you are misreading BR’s comment. Try again.
Chicago Guy (Chicago, Il)
This is great news! The Democrats got what they could from the Republicans, and they can rightfully claim they got it through a bipartisan approach. Then later on, they can force the rest of their bill through without their consent. Which is exactly what the GOP would do if the situation were reversed. BTW: I think they should kill the filibuster. Pass their entire agenda along party line votes. And then immediately reinstate it if they lose control in either 2022 or 2024. Which is also what the GOP would do if they had the chance.
Armand (Boston)
How about world class public transportation and a true bike infrastructure? Why not give us a true alternative to car culture?
Hayden (Maryland)
So…Congress agreed to spend a large amount of money on various buckets of projects. I am not confident any of them have a clue what tangible outcomes they are actually going to accomplish with the money.
We have to stop climate change or it will stop us. It’s a start.
coale johnson (5000 horseshoe meadow road)
so with climate change and covid altering the red state landscape? the knuckle draggers may agree to some of the green elements in Biden's infrastructure bill. it won't be enough to alter what's coming. when they pass a bill that subsidizes electric cars and trucks for anyone that wants one? when they subsidize a massive green energy initiative? when they admit climate change and covid are a danger to society? then maybe we can save ourselves.
TJ Colatrella (Boiceville NY)
$1 Trillion over 8 Years is $125 Billion per Year! $1 Trillion over 4 Years might have made a difference and still not some New Deal, Manhattan Project type accomplishment! In a nation this big with so many Infrastructure needs people will hardly notice $125 Billion per year which is in part why I think McConnell is allowing some of his flock to vote for it and even today only 17 of 50 Republicans voted to move this forward! Remember Biden came down from $2.5 Trillion which was much more appropriate but the kicker is this anemic $1 Trillion is spread out over 8 Years!
Steve Crouse (CT)
Whatever amounts are eventually approved, the successful mgt. of a natl. infrastructure plan is doomed to fail as presently designed. Without a senior cabinet level position in White house/Congress with engineering/construction staff ( instead of lawyers ) to begin the vital natl. rebuild , we'll have more of the state to state regional infighting for funding that has produced the continuing logjam after many decades. An 'Eisenhower' sized program with natl. design can't be managed with 50 competing states with 50 govs., senators etc. all working against eachother. Someone has to be 'in charge'
RUSSELL ***** 🏀 🏀 (Metairie)
I think Americans are kidding themselves if they believe it’s possible to continue driving giant trucks,S.U.V.’s, etc... We need to start following the lead of the Europeans - driving smaller vehicles, living in smaller houses, flying less - just changing the electricity source is not sufficient!
Antonin (France)
You mean the path the Europeans (who are emitting half as much as the Americans but still 4 times too much) should follow!!
ElleJ (CT)
Of course, both parties ignore that a carbon tax is desperately needed because that would be inconvenient. Tick tock.
coale johnson (5000 horseshoe meadow road)
@ElleJ the tax you are suggesting would fall most heavily on working people. seems unfair to have us pay while the wealthy that run the petro chemical companies that have made all the big money once again avoid paying their share.
ElleJ (CT)
@ coale Everybody thinks whatever they need to do to mitigate the climate crisis is unfair. Soon, it won’t matter. NIMBY applies to more than just the homeless.
Sami (Houston)
carbon tax is included in the reconciliation
Lemur (Shikasta)
It’s not enough. This country needs trillions of aide. We are fallling apart. It’s so obvious. If you’re all set and comfortable most don’t care. They clamor for less taxes and look at the shape we’re in.
Jessica (Brooklyn)
Do they realize they can just ban high-emitting cars and tax gas and oil power plants without spending money??? Cap. And. Trade. Carbon tax. Incentivize industries to change, rather than spending to clean up after them.
Will Goubert (Portland Oregon)
@Jessica I am sick and tired of industrial welfare, they make a pile of money and leave a destroyed environment and health issues for taxpayers to cleanup. Since they don't pay their due in taxes either it's a great scam!
Mitch Gitman (Seattle)
@Jessica When it comes to a revenue-neutral carbon tax or raising the gas tax from the measly 18.3 cents it has been since 1993, you will find no more adamant proponent than I. But those choices are not on the table. The choice is between (A) passing this bipartisan infrastructure bill followed by the more ambitious package in reconciliation and (B) doing nothing. I'd rather take what wins we can and get back to moving public opinion that there are no free lunches when it comes to shifting away from a fossil-fuel-dependent economy.
Robert (Out West)
Let me recommend the old Pythons sketch, “How To Do Things.” “To play the flute, you put your mouth here, and blow across this, and move your fingers up and down these keys…”
BayArea101 (Midwest)
Progressives would argue that they'd received only a down payment no matter how much Federal spending is voted into law. Listening to them is to understand that no amount of national borrowing is too much. I suspect that inside their confabs numbers of $10 trillion-plus are thrown around with abandon, as though money doesn't just grow on trees, it also falls from the sky in thick clouds. Unfortunately, today's young people and their children are going to have to pay this money back to the purchasers of today's (and tomorrow's) US bonds. We are consigned to enjoying the party while it lasts; afterwards comes the hangover.
Jessica (Brooklyn)
Today’s young people are - even worse - condemned to live in the climate were creating right now. As a young-ish person, yes, sure, I’m worried about the federal debt, but I’m A LOT more worried about rapid climate change causing failing harvests, catastrophic fires, broken supply chains, and unlivable conditions. We can’t afford not to spend money to fix climate change.
Lab333 (Seattle)
@Jessica Touché!
Paul Fisher (New Jersey)
@BayArea101 The cost of *not* addressing climate change will dwarf the largest deficit you, I, or anyone could ever imagine.
K. Kong (Washington)
This year, I'm in Connecticut and we're on track for the most rainfall in July since they began keeping records. My outdoor jogging is curtailed because of smoke. The price of tomatoes is rising because California doesn't have enough water. And all Congress does, even with this infrastructure bill, is play at the margins in addressing the climate change calamity. If the universe is made up of people like us, there is no hope of ever finding intelligent life.
DC (Rhode Island)
@K. Kong – I know what you mean! I haven't watered my garden since June. Rain every day. But we should have plenty of tomatoes. Check around with your friends and neighbors or local farms! No need for the trucked in California stuff.
Jeff (Brooklyn)
Sounds like you should grow your own tomatoes!
Stryder (Jersey City)
Am I the only one rather astounded that this got the agreement from a significant number of Republicans? Yes, it’s extremely paired down (for the moment), but there are a remarkable number of goals agreed on that are just simply anathema to what a Republican represents. Clean drinking water, a push for cleaner energy, money to improve public transportation, etc. I mean, it’s kind of a miracle.
Will Goubert (Portland Oregon)
@Stryder the Republicans have no proposals of their own aside from their obstruction, deregulation, corporate welfare and dismantling of agencies which does nothing but line their pockets do yeah, it's easy to see why some would support a watered down version.
DC (Rhode Island)
The lead pipes are the only reason I'd vote "Yes" on this bill if I were in Congress. Otherwise this is just robbing Peter (states and munis) to pay Paul (Manchin and Sinema).
Philip S. Wenz (Corvallis, Oregon)
This is only good news if the $3.5T part of the bill passes as well, pretty much intact. Otherwise, this will be just more of the same — more asphalt to drive huge pickups on and some seldom-used charging stations. If, on the other hand, this is truly a "down payment," then it's a good start. Onward and upward. Let's get Part II passed in the fall and some version of the Voting Rights act passed in before Christmas. Then we'll be have a fighting chance of addressing climate change here and, through our influence, abroad, and keeping democracy alive — here and abroad.
Robert (Los Angeles)
It's a start, at least, and it shows that bipartisan compromise, however narrow, is still possible. Hopefully, Democrats will be able to push a more robust climate change bill through in fall as currently planned.
Welcome Canada (Canada)
With all the $$$ being voted for the Infrastructure bill, how are the $$$ alloted to each state and who decides of the amounts?
See also