President Biden’s first budget proposal sketches a vision for greening the entire federal government, and it includes areas that have been traditional afterthoughts to climate policy, such as prisons.
His $1.4 billion environmental justice plan, for example, calls for $39 million to repair Bureau of Prisons buildings, the preliminary budget says, “in a manner that improves conditions of confinement and enhances environmental sustainability.”
That’s far from the only instance. Biden has promised a whole-of-government approach to climate, and his budget is full of initiatives — both expected and unexpected — that underscore that ambition.
To be sure, much of Biden’s proposal remains in flux. Some of the specifics await the administration’s full budget proposal later this spring, including details for the agencies directly responsible for executing Biden’s climate agenda. And all spending ultimately is decided by Congress. But in the limited terms available, Biden’s so-called skinny budget outlines a sprawling process of decarbonization.
Biden is asking Congress for a $14 billion increase to climate programs. That’s more than he’s proposing to boost programs on immigration and asylum (about $1.4 billion), the opioid epidemic ($3.9 billion) or tribal health and housing ($3.1 billion).
Biden’s climate bump is also greater than the increase he proposed for the Pentagon, though his total national security budget would rise by almost the same amount, about $13 billion.
His plan suggests the administration is juggling several pressing priorities. Climate comes second to education in Biden’s plan, which calls for a $20 billion increase to grants for high-poverty schools.
Coupled with Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, his budget could kick-start climate policy across the country. It remains to be seen, though, if Congress will give him what he wants — as well as if any future agreement would be enough to cut emissions in half by 2030, the deadline scientists have set for averting catastrophic warming.
Biden’s budget would invest in one of his most ambitious climate policies — the clean electricity standard — which aims to move the nation’s electrical grid toward carbon-free power in the next decade.
The White House proposal includes a $2 billion plan to build a clean energy projects and workforce initiative at the Department of Energy, which would put to work “welders, electricians and other skilled labor” building the transmission lines, solar arrays, wind turbines, electric vehicle charging stations and elements of the new grid.
A senior administration official on Friday acknowledged that the outline was more symbolic and called it a “complementary but separate proposal” to Biden’s infrastructure plans.
“This is the beginning of a long appropriations process that the president’s budget will influence. I think it will set a tone,” the official said.
In Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, he laid out the framework of a plan to get to a carbon-free grid by 2035. If passed by Congress, the clean electricity standard would require utilities to shift the nation’s power grid toward more renewables in an unprecedentedly tight time frame. More than a dozen states have either adapted or committed to a standard.
Even with an initial round of funding behind it, a clean electricity standard faces a steep hurdle to get through Congress, where Democrats only can lose a handful of votes and where some moderates have been resistant to policy that curtails the use of fossil fuels. If the standard doesn’t survive Congress, it would be more of an aspirational goal than a government mandate.
Transportation is the single largest source of U.S. emissions, and Biden’s budget builds on the electric vehicle and mass transit plans he proposed in his infrastructure package.
Biden aims to use federal procurement to jump-start the electric vehicle supply chain. Only about half a percent of the federal fleet is electric — 3,200 of 645,000 vehicles — according to General Services Administration data on fiscal 2019, the most recent available.
The budget proposes $600 million to purchase electric vehicles and charging stations for the federal government’s own fleet, with half dedicated to the GSA and half to other agencies.
Transit grants would get a 23% bump, reaching $2.5 billion. The budget also calls for $250 million to help transit agencies buy low- and no-emissions buses.
Amtrak would see a 35% increase to its budget, reaching $2.7…