In an incredible show of bipartisan support on a spending bill, a phenomenon all but unheard of in the United States these days, the Senate voted in a landslide to pass a 2,400-page bill that allocates nearly a quarter-trillion dollars toward supporting the expansion of research and development in the United States. This is an incredible feat, especially when you consider all the quibbling over the much-debated and highly partisan infrastructure negotiations that stole the spotlight away from the R&D spending bill last month. What could possibly be less partisan than infrastructure? It turns out that there’s a lot of truth to that old overused adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." And in this case, the common enemy is, you guessed it, China. Beijing has been funneling massive amounts of money into R&D for years in order to position itself at the forefront of new technological innovations and other cutting-edge breakout industries. The U.S. has not. And now we’re falling behind. And even with the massive research and development spending bill approved in June and the Senate’s recently arrived-at $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal, the U.S. government’s recent spending spree is more than likely just too little too late to make the country competitive against China (not to mention Europe) in one of the most important and fastest-growing global markets: clean energy.
For one thing, in a bid to make Biden’s infrastructure plan more palatable to Republican senators, the green energy aspects of the bill were cut back considerably in the bipartisan “framework” that was agreed upon in the Senate late last month, causing much outcry from environmental activists and other climate advocates. The first concrete actions of the bill, which will allocate $579 billion in new spending to repair the nation’s roads, rails, and bridges will not go very far to addressing some of Biden’s loftier campaign trail promises to tackle climate change and build up the nation’s green energy infrastructure.
While the deal does throw money at some clean-energy-adjacent sectors, such as funding for public transit, passenger and freight rail, and electric vehicle infrastructure including electric buses and charging stations, “it contains few of the ambitious ideas that Mr. Biden initially proposed to cut the fossil fuel pollution that is driving climate change” the New York Times reported.
Those plans, which have now fallen to the wayside, include a nationwide clean electricity standard which would require power companies to extract more and more of their electricity from renewable and clean resources, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars of tax incentives to scale up wind, solar, and other clean energies, two initiatives which would go a long way toward cutting back the country’s massive carbon footprint, which is currently the second-biggest in the world. While Democratic leaders are still hoping to work some of these “ambitious ideas” into separate fast-tracked infrastructure bills down the line, they are nowhere to be seen in the current deal, which could be a major problem for the country’s contribution to fighting climate change -- not to mention its ability to stay relevant and competitive in clean energy markets.
“Even if the newly negotiated infrastructure deal also passes, it still won’t be enough to ensure the clean energy future is built in America,” The Hill reported this week in an op-ed emphasizing the importance and interrelation of Biden’s American Jobs Plan in all of these spending negotiations and clean energy races. “Perhaps counter-intuitively, [clean energy] industry support can be paired with industry regulation to super-charge domestic clean energy manufacturing and create millions of American jobs,” writer Mike O’Boyle contends. “That is the American Jobs Plan’s vision — beating China and Europe to the clean energy future by pushing businesses to innovate while incentivizing them to capture this opportunity.”
Already, huge parts of the clean energy supply chain are locked up by China, which controls more than 90 percent of some of the finite rare Earth minerals that are integral to building clean energy components such as electric vehicle batteries and solar panels.
Green energy is not just an environmental issue, and it certainly shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The global clean energy transition is underway whether you like it or not, and the United States needs to get serious about positioning itself at the forefront of the movement, for the country’s relevance in the global marketplace as well as for its workers and national job security.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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