After infrastructure vote, all eyes turn to climate policy in budget

2021 infrastructure bill

On August 10, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that included some climate measures. Even more climate policy is expected to come in the budget reconciliation process that is now underway. Let’s seize this moment!

By Flannery Winchester

Today, August 11, the Senate voted on a bipartisan infrastructure package that has been dominating political news for the last few weeks. Though the bill isn’t focused exclusively on climate change, it contains lots of funding aimed at addressing the problem, making today an exciting day for climate advocates like us!

This NPR breakdown of the bill names some major investment areas like zero- and low-emission buses and ferries, public transit, and upgraded power infrastructure “to facilitate the expansion of renewable energy.” The Atlantic reports on some other elements, such as funding to build electric-vehicle charging stations, develop and commercialize carbon capture technology, and to support America’s battery industry.

Beyond climate mitigation, the bill also takes steps to help America adapt to the climate change impacts we’re already seeing. The New York Times highlights funding for:

  • a FEMA program that works to reduce the damage from flooding, by buying or elevating homes at risk from floods.
  • a NOAA program to help restore coastal habitats and protect coastal communities.
  • “wildfire defense grants” to at-risk communities, through the Department of Agriculture.

The bill will now need to move through the House, but the Senate’s passage of this bill is exciting progress on climate policy. 

A bipartisan climate win

From CCL’s perspective, we are particularly excited to see that the package was crafted and passed in a bipartisan way. In addition to 50 Senate Democrats, 19 Senate Republicans voted for it. That’s huge!

CCL has worked for years to make climate an issue that can be a bridge between the two parties, not a wedge. Day in and day out, our volunteers — who themselves identify all across the political spectrum — talk to elected Republicans and Democrats about the common ground we can share on climate policy. Today, a strong majority of U.S. Senators stood on that common ground and voted for this infrastructure bill and the climate provisions included in it.

And as encouraging as the bipartisanship is, the biggest takeaway from today’s vote is that these measures would increase our resilience in the face of climate change and help reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Because as this week’s new report from the UN IPCC made clear, we need to reduce emissions faster and more deeply than ever before to really address the problem. The report states, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” It goes on to warn that “global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

Time to go big on climate in the budget

Our attention is now focused squarely on the budget reconciliation process. Even with all the climate measures that made it into the infrastructure package, it’s the budget that is expected to be the main vehicle for even more significant climate policy this year. And the budget package could include a price on carbon, which would help drive the deep emissions reductions we need.

Congress is focused on the budget now, too. Right after Tuesday’s infrastructure vote, the Senate voted to begin debate on their $3.5 trillion budget resolution. This is the framework that was previewed a few weeks back, when we told you that it’s crunch time for climate policy.

“There’s a long road ahead” on the budget, E&E News reports, because the budget resolution “dictates only the topline spending for each committee.” Beyond that, it’s up to the committees how to reach those numbers and what policies to include. As we explained in a blog post a few weeks ago, some encouraging measures are already named in the resolution, like a border carbon adjustment and a methane fee. Others, like a carbon price, are not specifically mentioned.

But staunch climate advocates like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — who sits on the Senate Budget Committee — has been public about his support for a carbon price. Watch this message from Sen. Whitehouse about the budget process and how he sees a carbon price fitting in:

We’re seizing this moment

Over the last three weeks, we’ve been pushing hard to contact the Senate about carbon pricing. We’ve generated nearly 50,000 emails and phone calls to Senators! Next up, we’ll be pushing to contact representatives in the House.

All of this contact is crucial as the budget discussions happen in the next weeks and possibly months. Our members of Congress will know without a doubt that carbon pricing is a popular, powerful policy tool that they can include in the budget. 

So, let the news of today’s infrastructure bill encourage you that climate progress is possible. It’s possible with bipartisan support, and it’s possible in this Congress. With that wind in your sails, let’s keep pushing over these next few weeks when we need it most.

Flannery Winchester has put her words to work for magazines, for marketing agencies, and now for our earth as CCL's Communications Director. She is grateful to spend every day working to preserve this beautiful planet.