Senators spar over Biden green energy infrastructure push

Source: By Sylvan Lane, The Hill • Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2021

Senators spar over Biden green energy infrastructure push

President Biden’s push to mobilize the U.S. economy against climate change is stoking Republican backlash to his infrastructure plan, raising further doubts about a potential bipartisan breakthrough.

That GOP criticism was on display Thursday at a Senate Banking Committee hearing, where Democrats touted the Biden administration’s “whole-of-economy” approach to fighting climate change, a central focus of the president’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan. The proposal would allocate hundreds of billions of dollars toward accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels, with the goal of creating thousands of green energy jobs in the process.

GOP lawmakers already have blasted Biden for shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline and actively pushing the U.S. away from oil and gas. Republicans also have criticized financial regulators for taking a closer look at climate-related financial and economic risks over fears they could turn investors away from the fossil fuel industry.

“Just as breaking a shopkeeper’s window doesn’t somehow create economic gain, neither does destroying traditional sources of energy and replacing it with so-called green energy,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), ranking Republican on the Banking panel.

“It would only create new green jobs by destroying traditional energy jobs,” he continued. “The end result is that society pays more for energy, which lowers our standard of living.”

Massive investments in renewable energy production, however, are a no-brainer proposal for Democrats, who see Biden’s proposal as a generational chance to turn the tide against both climate change and income inequality. The party is also desperate to reverse its declining support in rural, predominately white, blue-collar areas that were once staunchly Democratic.

“We show no respect by selling communities a fantasy of returning to the past. People want the truth, and they want our commitment to help them grow the industries of the future,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, during a Thursday hearing on boosting rural energy jobs.

“I want to see American manufacturing thrive, to strengthen American competitiveness, and to give communities the tools they need to be a part of the 21st century clean energy economy,” Brown said.

Republicans called on Neal Crabtree, a welder who lost his job after Biden pulled the plug on Keystone XL, as a witness Thursday to highlight the toll those decisions could take.

“I never thought I’d live in a country where my own president would put me out of work, building a pipeline that was going to transport the same product that’s already coming into this country,” Crabtree said.

The long-standing disputes between Republicans and Democrats over handling climate change are far from the only thing holding up a bipartisan deal. Senate Republicans have also rejected the cost of Biden’s offer and the corporate tax hikes proposed to cover it, countering Thursday with a narrower $568 billion measure.

Democrats acknowledge that pushing the economy toward renewable energy is a daunting task, particularly for workers like Crabtree with specific skill sets. Even so, supporters of Biden’s plan say the U.S. cannot afford to shy away from expediting a transition to green energy given the dire implications of climate change and the country should take charge of a chance to shape a new economy.

Biden’s plan includes billions of dollars in tax credits and grants meant to incentivize clean energy production, research and development of renewable energy and carbon capture technology, and electric vehicle expansion.

The ultimate goal, Democrats say, is to spur enough green energy opportunities for workers who rely on jobs tied to fossil fuels.

Brown, who sports a canary lapel pin as a tribute to coal miners, cited a recent commitment from United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts to support a transition to renewable energy if Biden can create well compensated jobs to replace those lost in the process.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) of Nevada, a state hit hard by both the 2007-09 and coronavirus recessions, echoed that such a transition could be boon to the 14 percent of workers back home affiliated with organized labor.

“They have skills and they don’t need to be retrained,” Cortez Masto said. “We need to transition those skills to the jobs of the future in this new kind of innovation economy.”

Republicans countered that the expansion of green energy jobs shouldn’t and does not need to come at the cost of jobs in oil, coal and gas. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) cited his state’s ability to draw electric battery manufacturing from GM and LG, while Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) questioned whether the scale of investments in renewable energy could make up for those lost outside of it.

“I just don’t see the math adding up,” Tillis said.