Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
The $2 trillion infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden rolled out during a stop in Pittsburgh last week does more than just rebuild the nation’s crumbling network of roads and bridges, it also fast-tracks the nation’s pivot away from fossil fuels; builds up electric vehicle infrastructure, and provide tax breaks to encourage new, climate-friendly technology.
This down payment on environmental spending also calls for calls for $10 billion for a Civilian Climate Corps, $16 billion for capping abandoned wells and cleaning up abandoned mines, and a general commitment to “protect and, where necessary, restore nature-based infrastructure.” And if you’re guessing that it’s already drawing comparisons to the New Deal, you’d be correct.
As you might expect, environmental activists are welcoming this emphasis from the White House, where former Secretary of State John Kerry has been tapped to be a new climate czar. One of those advocates, Josh McNeil, the executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, took a few minutes to talk about Biden’s sweeping plan and its implications for Pennsylvania. The bottom line: Jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
The conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
Q: If you’ve heard nothing about this proposal, what’s the single, most important thing to know about it?
McNeil: “This is probably the single biggest action ever taken by our country to address environmental issues. That goes beyond just climate change, it goes to [address] air pollution that will impact the health of millions of people. It will address lead issues that are so problematic in our cities. And it’ll help provide clean drinking water for all of us. This is an investment that we have desperately needed to decades and it is finally coming.”
Q: Republicans already are lining up trying to kill it, even though rural and red districts will clearly benefit from it. How do you circumvent this?
McNeil: “It will take Pennsylvanians talking to their elected officials and letting them know that it has to happen. The vast majority of citizens of this state will want to see it done. It will create tens of thousands of good jobs, [and] it will take our most impoverished communities to new levels of prosperity. The coalition that is behind this is going to be unprecedented.”
Q: The big part of this plan calls for creating a national standard that would require utilities to use a certain amount of renewable energy (wind, solar, etc). That’s intended to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. What’s the argument there?
McNeil: “We’ve done this before. We were the firewood capital of the 1700s. And then we did oil and coal, and now we’re doing natural gas. We know how to do this. We should be at the forefront of this transition. The forces that are trying to hold us back on that are not remembering our history.”
Q: This plan also calls for increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations. Pennsylvania, for instance, needs the expanded infrastructure there. That’s also an opportunity for economic development, right?
McNeil: “Electric cars are going to be the future, it’s only a matter of time. This investment to put charging stations where we need them will accelerate that. It will put a lot of electricians to work. We can embrace the next century’s worth of transportation. Ultimately that will reduce costs for people, while, at the same time, allowing us to move ourselves in the way we need to move ourselves while not putting our children’s’ future at risk.”
Q: There’s language in here to cap abandoned mines, creating the opportunity for coalitions between labor and rural lawmakers who tend to be Republican. Is that where you might find some possibility for bipartisan support — however narrow that might be?
McNeil: “We’ve been making the case for years that these things go hand-in-hand. You don’t clean up abandoned mine lands with robots. It takes people and shovels. Because we were at the forefront of all those energy trends, it will take a lot of work. It will be transformative in parts of the state that really need the help.”