Buttigieg: Climate change policy in infrastructure bill would help future, economy

October 18, 2021

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the stripping a major climate change policy from a proposed budget package would result in higher costs in lives and livelihood and imperil supply chains in the future.

The bill, which has not been finalized, allots an estimated $3.5 trillion over 10 years for improvements to infrastructure, education and health care.

The bill also has $150 billion allotted for a Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would reward energy suppliers who transition away from greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels like coal and natural gas and impose fines on those companies who do not.

That provision, which some see as key to meeting President Joe Biden’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution 50% by 2030, may be stripped from the final bill due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who serves as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said the administration is committed to “bold” climate action, but the final form of that action is still being negotiated.

“But the bottom line is we have to act on climate for the good of our children. And, by the way, for the good of our economy,” Buttigieg said. “I view this as kind of like a planetary maintenance issue. The longer you take to do something about it, the more it's going to cost in livelihoods as well as lives. We need to act.”

Buttigieg pushed for a clean energy standard during his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and during his tenure as transportation secretary, citing climate change impacts like rising sea levels, increased and more severe heat waves and increased flood risks.

Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, much like Indiana, is especially vulnerable to those climate change impacts.

West Virginia ranked highest in the amount of infrastructure at risk of becoming inoperable due to more-frequent 100-year floods, including the highest share of fire stations, police stations, schools and commercial properties.

About 61% of West Virginia’s power stations, the target of the Clean Electricity Performance Program, are at risk of becoming inoperable due to flooding.

Despite those risks, Manchin opposes the CEPP, which could be the Biden administration’s best chance to curtail climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions.

The CEPP is also opposed by the utility companies the program would regulate.

One company, American Electric Power, parent company of Indiana Michigan Power, wrote a letter to Congressional offices and other utilities arguing that the CEPP forces clean energy development “too rapidly.”

“A program of this magnitude, if enacted into law, will adversely impact the reliability and resilience of the electric grid, unless the increase in intermittent renewables is accompanied by an expansion of very expensive firm dispatchable and resilient resources, such as energy storage,” wrote Tony Kavanagh, AEP senior vice president for governmental affairs.

AEP has committed to fossil fuels for the near future. The company recently announced it was seeking bids for coal to power “one or more” of its generating stations. The company has sped up retirements of coal-fired power plants, but increased its reliance on natural gas to power its generating facilities.

As companies like AEP divest themselves of their most polluting assets, major private equity firms, like Blackstone, KKR and Carlyle, have worked to purchase them at bargain prices, keeping the fossil fuel supply alive and greenhouse gases pumping into the atmosphere.

Manchin himself has made millions from Enersystems, a private coal brokerage he founded in the 1980s, and has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry.

The text of the bill has not been finalized, but if the CEPP is removed, the bill’s authors may seek to replace it with less ambitious emissions reduction provisions or introduce the CEPP as stand-alone legislation.

Buttigieg: Climate change policy in infrastructure bill would help future, economy