In September 2019, the Center for American Progress (CAP), a center-left policy think tank, released a white paper entitled “Reducing Carbon Pollution Through Infrastructure A Roadmap for Congress,” that provides several options for direct federal infrastructure investments in renewable energy, transmission, transportation, industrial decarbonization, and building retrofits and weatherization, that could lead to significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. In total, the recommended investments could reduce yearly countrywide GHG emissions by 13% below current levels by2030, by increasing renewable energy generation, electrifying transportation, and facilitating energy efficiency in buildings and industry. Per an analysis by the Rhodium group, the US is currently on track to reducing emissions by 12-19% by 2025. However, as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, the US pledged to reduce CO2 by 25-28% under 2005 levels by 2025.
Notably, the CAP report favors direct federal grants instead of investment tax credits or private-public partnerships because many infrastructure needs will not produce “reliable revenue streams to repay project financing.” It recommends that this be done by reauthorizing and expanding the Treasury Department’s Section 1603 “grants in lieu of tax credits” program, set up in 2009 to reimburse individuals and companies for the cost of installing solar, wind, or other renewable energy equipment. The CAP report suggests extending or revising other already existing federal programs that would provide grants for climate-friendly infrastructure investments.
The report’s suggestions include:
- Providing grants to help close coal plants owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and rural co-ops who may be otherwise unable to transition to renewable energy due to sunk costs.
- Investing in improvements to transmission infrastructure to allow the grid to meet the demands placed by increased renewable energy.
- Covering the difference in price to allow all new federal vehicle fleets and both school and transitbus fleets to transition to electric vehicles (EVs) through an extension of the Low or No Emission Vehicle Program
- Providing 30% sunsetting grants to accelerate the deployment of public/private EV charging stations to keep up with projected needs
- Providing grants to retrofit municipal buildings, schools, hospitals, and federal buildings to increase energy efficiency, electrify of heating, and replace refrigeration systems
- Increasing funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) State Energy Program, an established program that promotes energy-efficiency in local communities
- Providing increased weatherization grants for low-income families by extending the DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program
- Providing technology-neutral grants to develop innovative deep decarbonization pilot projects for key industrial sectors including iron and steel, cement, and chemical production
- Creating a program to destroy stocks of hydrofluorocarbons, potent greenhouse gasses used in legacy buildings for refrigeration
- Investing in methane digesters
The report also suggests increased funding for implementation of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) which requires environment assessments of all federal projects.
The report comes at a time when Democrats are demanding that infrastructure legislation addresses climate change. There is a consensus among Democratic leadership that a bipartisan infrastructure package could be an opportunity to include emissions reduction measures.
The recently proposed America's Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, for example, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) and cosponsored by Sen. Carper (D-DE), Sen. Capito (R-WV), and Sen. Cardin (D-WV) was unanimously advanced by the Environment and Public Works Committee and “includes the first-ever climate title in a highway bill.” The bill’s climate provisions over five years provide:
- $4.9 billion for resiliency protections for natural disasters
- $3 billion to support state projects to reduce highway-related carbon emissions
- $1 billion for alternative fuel infrastructure along designated areas of the country that lack appropriate infrastructure
However, a bipartisan infrastructure bill such as this, that might act on the type of recommendations included in the CAP report, would face several obstacles. One question is how Congress would pay for the legislation. It is also thought that Republican support for an infrastructure package will likely require streamlined environmental protections. Democratic leadership, for its part, has been clear that any infrastructure package would include climate mitigation and adaption measures. And of course, infrastructure talks earlier this year between Democratic leadership and President Trump were halted over ongoing partisan disputes.
One of the report’s authors, Kristina Costa, stated that the investments outlined in the policy road map were “more ambitious than what we've seen coming from either chamber so far” at a total cost of over $600 billion. However, she says, “I think it's really an attempt to start a conversation and put some ideas in front of members and see what is appealing to them."