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Biden’s $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Is No Green New Deal, Progressives Said

“I think it’s a step towards our vision of a Green New Deal,” an activist from the Sunrise Movement said. They just think it falls far short.

Posted on March 31, 2021, at 4:49 p.m. ET

Jim Watson / Getty Images

President Joe Biden walks off Air Force One in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 31.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday proposed spending more than $2 trillion to overhaul the nation’s aging infrastructure, from roads to water pipelines and electric grids, in a way that tackles climate change and creates jobs.

The proposal’s shared focus on cutting pollution, supporting vulnerable populations, and generating new jobs echoes the core tenets of the Green New Deal resolution championed by the Democrats Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

But progressive politicians and climate groups say Biden’s plan falls far short of the Green New Deal, which proposes the US hit net-zero emissions by 2030. Biden’s plan, they say, doesn’t dedicate nearly enough money as necessary.

“It is imperative that we act on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use our governing majorities and build on the success of the landmark $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan,” Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal said in a statement shortly before Biden rolled out his plan on Wednesday, in a speech in Pittsburgh. “It makes little sense to narrow his previous ambition on infrastructure or compromise with the physical realities of climate change.”

Organizers and congressional offices who spoke with BuzzFeed News said that they were encouraged by some of the initiatives included in the plan but that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“I think it’s a step towards our vision of a Green New Deal,” Ellen Sciales, a spokesperson for the youth climate group Sunrise Movement, told BuzzFeed News. “But the truth is this does not meet the scale and the scope of what we need to meet the true scale and urgency of the climate crisis.”

This is just Biden’s latest climate move, following the US rejoining the Paris climate agreement, pausing new oil and gas leasing on public lands, and creating high-level climate roles, task forces, and committees across the federal government.

Those earlier moves were executive orders largely focused on the steps Biden could take alone. In contrast, “The American Jobs Plan” is a proposal for Congress to green-light grants, tax breaks, job creation programs, and more to help the public, especially disadvantaged communities, prepare for and respond to the climate crisis.

“The plan targets 40% of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities,” according to a White House fact sheet. “And, the plan invests in rural communities and communities impacted by the market-based transition to clean energy.”

One congressional office pointed to the plan’s focus on targeting benefits toward disadvantaged communities, calling it encouraging.

“It demonstrates that the White House is listening, but the next step is to make sure that the scale meets where we’re at,” Maurice Mitchell, the director of the Working Families Party, told BuzzFeed News about the plan’s focus on those communities. “If these were regular times, then the scale of the bill would probably meet the needs of regular times. These are not regular times.”

Under the proposal, the US would expand tax credits for clean energy generation and storage; invest $10 billion to launch a Climate Conservation Corps to employ people to conserve public lands and boost climate resilience; put $16 billion toward supporting jobs to plug abandoned oil and gas wells; allocate $174 billion to expand the US electric vehicle market, including setting a target of building 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by the end of the decade; and devote $45 billion to replace every lead pipe and service line across the country.

If passed by Congress and signed into law, this plan would dramatically expand the money going into US climate resilience, pollution cleanup, conservation, electrification, and energy efficiency.

And groups like the Sunrise Movement see many pieces of this proposal, including the inclusion of a Climate Conservation Corps, as a big win.

“We think it’s historic,” Sciales told BuzzFeed News. Still, the Sunrise Movement and other progressives don’t think it’s historic enough.

Congressional staffers for progressives in the House and Senate told BuzzFeed News that while the plan encompasses some of what’s laid out in various Green New Deal plans, the amount of money it dedicates is not close to what they’ve had in mind.

“Is it the amount we want to see invested? Not quite,” said one aide to a progressive senator, who asked not to be named while the White House is just starting to roll its plan out. “There’s still room to push for more, and that’s what progressives do.”

Need to go way bigger. https://t.co/QMAliQ7YFc

Twitter: @JamaalBowmanNY

Democrats have introduced a number of separate bills in recent weeks that would push more funding toward infrastructure and climate change. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Andy Levin introduced a green procurement that would fund purchases of sustainable American-made products. They also joined others in Congress to introduce the Build Green Act, which would invest $500 billion over the next decade to modernize infrastructure and transition the country to electric public vehicles and rail.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus on Monday introduced the THRIVE Act, proposing $10 trillion on infrastructure spending. The agenda, which was first introduced last year by former representative and current Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, has been sponsored by a large coalition of congressional Democrats.

The Green New Deal Network — a coalition of organizations including the Working Families Party, the Sunrise Movement, the NAACP, and the Sierra Club — announced that they would pressure Biden and senators to incorporate the THRIVE agenda into the recovery plan with nationwide actions.

One senior administration official told reporters that the plan reflected Biden’s commitment to meet the moment and show that the United States “could deliver.”

“We can demonstrate to the American people that the type of historic and galvanizing public investment programs we’ve had in the past but have not seen it in earnest since the creation of the interstate highway system and the space race in the1960s can revive, revitalize our national imagination, and put millions of Americans to work,” the official said on a briefing call with reporters on Tuesday night.

Asked by BuzzFeed News if the plan approached a Green New Deal on Wednesday morning, a Biden official said, “No. It’s the American Jobs Plan.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.