Senior Vice President, Policy
August 05, 2021
Building smart, modern, resilient infrastructure has long been a priority of the U.S. Chamber. After more than a decade of fits and starts and occasional progress, Congress made a historic investment in America's future by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on November 5.
While much of the attention has rightly been on our crumbling roads, bridges, and water infrastructure, there’s another big winner in the bipartisan package—our climate. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act supports and expands upon last year’s Energy Act—which we hailed at the time as the most significant energy and climate progress in more than a decade—with unprecedented funding and programs designed to accelerate a cleaner energy future. In the end, it will be these types of investments that will make the biggest difference in addressing the global climate challenge—facilitating the development and deployment of lower emissions technologies around the world at a massive scale.
The infrastructure bill tackles this challenge in a number of ways, with both major investments and needed permitting reforms, for a roughly $100 billion total investment in climate, energy, and sustainability programs.
First, let’s take a look at the investment side.
Climate and Energy Technology Innovation. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the significance of this new funding. For context, the Department of Energy currently invests approximately $6 billion annually on applied research and development programs. The infrastructure package provides over $35 billion over five years in new funding for core climate and energy technology programs. Much of this funding will go toward demonstration activities in priority areas such as carbon capture, carbon removal, advanced nuclear, hydrogen, renewables, battery technology, energy efficiency, and industrial emissions. There is a growing consensus that breakthroughs in these areas are paramount to reversing global emissions trends and meeting ambitious targets set under the Paris Agreement.
Electric Grid Infrastructure and Resilience. Another $27 billion of the package is dedicated to strengthening and expanding electricity grid infrastructure, helping to reduce vulnerabilities due to extreme weather and natural disasters, and establishing a new electric grid reliability and resiliency demonstration program.
EV Infrastructure and Supply Chains. Electric vehicles and battery technologies receive a big boost, with $7.5 billion for infrastructure, another $7.5 billion to replace older school buses with lower emissions buses, plus $7.7 billion for electric vehicle battery manufacturing, and securing critical mineral supply chains.
There is also $1.5 billion in funding for predisaster mitigation programs through FEMA to assist companies and communities to weather the next crisis.
All told, it marks an unprecedented investment in the programs that will help the United States claim global leadership in low- and zero-emissions technologies.
However, much of that investment will never be fully realized with the arcane, outdated permitting framework currently in place. While reforms in recent years made progress by advancing badly-needed updates to the NEPA permitting process, the Biden Administration has indicated an intent to delay or roll back these overdue improvements.
That’s why it is especially welcome news to see sensible, bipartisan permitting measures included in this package. That includes “One Federal Decision” provisions—also a central feature of recent regulatory process updates—that would require a single environmental document and coordinated schedule for multi-agency reviews, and an average timeline of 2 years to complete an environmental review, rather than the 5-7 years that had become the unfortunate norm. The package also reauthorizes the FAST-41 Act’s permitting council, which assists the movement of projects through the complicated, multi-agency processes. Additionally, this groundbreaking package includes language to strengthen the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue permits for the construction and modification of interstate transmissions facilities in instances where such a permit is being withheld by a state. That new authority is a recognition that rapid expansion of renewable and other technologies is going to require new transmission, which frequently ends up delayed for years or even killed due to “NIMBY” concerns.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Innovation and Jobs Act is exactly the type of bold, economy-growing action needed to address climate change. Congressional leaders and the White House deserve credit for their attention to climate as part of this package, and the U.S. Chamber applauds enactment by Congress and advancement to the President’s desk for his signature.
About the authors
Senior Vice President, Policy
Martin (Marty) Durbin is president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute (GEI). Durbin leads GEI’s efforts to build support for meaningful energy action through policy development, education, and advocacy, making it a go-to voice for commonsense energy solutions.