Biden’s jobs plan is also a climate plan. Will it make a difference?

By | April 4, 2021

Elizabeth Kolbert writes:

Last week, as the [cherry] blooms in Kyoto were prematurely fading, President Joe Biden travelled to Pennsylvania to pitch his latest spending plan, aimed, in part, at combatting global warming. The proposal, which the Administration has dubbed the American Jobs Plan, includes eighty-five billion dollars for mass-transit systems, another eighty billion dollars for Amtrak to expand service and make needed repairs, and a hundred billion to upgrade the nation’s electrical grid. It would allocate a hundred and seventy-four billion dollars to advance the transition to electric vehicles, thirty-five billion dollars for research in emissions-reducing and climate-resilience technologies, and ten billion to create a New Deal-style Civilian Climate Corps.

The plan will lead to “transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change,” Biden declared, speaking at a carpenters’ training facility outside Pittsburgh.

The green spending Biden is proposing is contained in a two-trillion-dollar package so sprawling that it would affect just about every aspect of American life. This sprawl is, presumably, deliberate. The Administration is touting the proposal as a way to fight inequality, put millions of people to work, reduce carbon emissions, rebuild the country’s aging roads, bridges, and water systems, and—shades of the cherry blossoms—outcompete the Chinese. Implicit in the plan is the assumption that these goals are compatible. Whether or not this is the case, however, is very much an open question.

Twelve years ago, when Barack Obama became President, he confronted a situation not unlike the one Biden faces today. The Bush Administration had left behind an economic mess; unemployment was high, and it remained so even as the country, technically, entered a recovery. Obama pushed through a stimulus package—the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or A.R.R.A.—that included roughly a hundred billion dollars for programs aimed at reducing emissions. China, South Korea, Japan, and the European Union approved similar packages, which, on paper at least, added another three hundred and fifty billion dollars’ worth of “green stimulus” spending.

A recent report on all this spending by analysts at the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research group, found that it had mixed results. While the green-stimulus money produced jobs and “helped build up new industries,” the effect on carbon emissions was underwhelming. [Continue reading…]

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